Warrington are going to Wembley for the first time since 1990 thanks to a dynamic performance, spearheaded by a hat-trick of tries from Matt King, that gave them just enough leeway to withstand Wigan's second-half resurgence.
The Australian Test centre, whose form earlier this year was poor enough for him to feel obliged to apologise to fans, started with a try that triggered a burst of four in 12 minutes. When he got his third, to make the score 32-8, the Wolves looked safe but Wigan dragged an epic semi-final back to a six-point margin before Lee Briers' drop-goal and Chris Hicks' try clinched it.
Briers dedicated the victory to his brother, who died eight years ago and whose birthday it was yesterday. He was Warrington's man of the match, but it could equally well have gone to his half-back partner, Michael Monaghan, who was a handful for Wigan all afternoon.
For the battle between the one-time cup kings and a club that has not won the trophy since 1974, Wigan had Phil Bailey and captain Sean O'Loughlin back to strengthen their pack, while Warrington listed Monaghan at scrum-half to cover for the absence of Simon Grix, but played him at dummy-half for most of the game.
"He's had his critics, but he's been fantastic in that role for weeks," said his coach, Tony Smith.
Monaghan looked to have capitalised on a ferocious Warrington start when his pass sent Ben Westwood over after three minutes, but the try was disallowed for an obstruction. Wigan also had an effort ruled out before they were awarded an obstruction penalty that led to a score for Bailey.
A conversion and a penalty from Richards made it a good start for Wigan, but they were about to be hit by a Warrington whirlwind.
A Bailey knock-on conceded vital possession and the ball eventually made its way to Matt King, who wrestled his way through three tackles and forced it down. Three minutes later, Monaghan sent Ben Harrison charging down the middle and, at the end of the set, Lee Briers kicked across the pitch and Louis Anderson dropped onto the loose ball.
Try number three of the Wolves' blitz came when the irrepressible Monaghan got free from dummy-half and Briers feinted before bursting through.
Briers than provided the pass for Mike Cooper to barge over and Warrington could almost smell the burgers on Wembley way.
Wigan's best chance of a reply came and went when Andy Coley was held up over the line, and the Wolves went further ahead immediately before the break, thanks to Monaghan's burst and over-head pass to King.
Briers' interception from O'Loughlin set up the first points of the second half. Monaghan was held up over the line and another pin-point kick from Briers gave King his third. That looked to be enough, but Brian Noble and his sides are good at reacting to adversity and Sam Tomkins' kick and regather created the try that could have started one of the great fight-backs.
At the time, Warrington were more concerned by an injury to Chris Riley that saw him taken for neck x-rays, but Andy Coley and Thomas Leuluai battled their way over the line to bring Wigan within one score.
Briers kept his composure, setting up the drop-goal after Paul Prescott had lost the ball. It was also Briers who sent Hicks on a long run to score with less than two minutes to play.
The tension told in one section of the Halton Stadium, where there was a brief flurry of fighting between rival fans. This was a semi-final, however, that deserved to be remembered for the confrontation on the field and for the eventual triumph of a club that has waited a long time for a day like this.
Warrington: Mathers; Hicks, Bridge, King, Riley; Briers, Monaghan; Morley, Clarke, Carvell, Westwood, L Anderson, Harrison. Substitutes used: V Anderson, Johnson, Cooper, Rauhihi.
Wigan: Phelps; Roberts, Gleeson, Carmont, Richards; S Tomkins, Leuluai; Coley, Riddell, Prescott, Bailey, Hansen, O'Loughlin. Substitutes used: Fielden, Paleaasina, J Tomkins, Flanagan.
Referee: S Ganson (St Helens).
The six winners of last week's competition were Margaret Farmer, Carolyn Oakes, Tom Christophers, Ian Farmer, Alison Walker and Andrew Abbott.Reuse content