Maguire proves the guiding light as revitalised Wigan roll back the years

Wigan 22 St Helens 10
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The Independent Online

Michael Maguire was reluctant to talk in such romantic terms, but even he admits that he could have inaugurated a new Wigan dynasty.

The club that was so emphatically the dominant force in the domestic game in the 1980s and early 1990s had not won the Super League title since 1998. It is no accident that it has happened on Maguire's watch. What he lacks in colourful quotability, he has more than made up for with his organisation of his troops and his attention to detail. He has made the tough decisions and got them right, be it in switching Sam Tomkins to full-back or in leaving out established players in favour of relative novices.

The team that won at Old Trafford on Saturday is full of young talent that is capable of maturing and improving over the next few years. On top of that, Wigan are bringing over three proven stars from Maguire's old club, the Melbourne Storm. The only conclusion is that they will be stronger next season than this.

"If we keep working as hard as we have been, hopefully other opportunities will come," Maguire said."The boys are a hungry bunch and there's no reason why the club can't continue to move forward."

Wigan will start next season, however, without their Man of Steel, Pat Richards, who tore his Achilles tendon late in the first half and will be out for six months.

Apart from that, Saturday night at Old Trafford was just about perfect for the team and the fans in cherry and white. They took control early on with two tries from Martin Gleeson and never lost it. Gleeson and others, like Stuart Fielden, have recovered their best form in the latter stages of the season, which could pose some interesting questions for the England coach, Steve McNamara, before he names his Four Nations squad today.

At the other end of the scale, youngsters like Michael McIlorum – preferred to Mark Riddell in the starting line-up in a typical Maguire move – and Liam Farrell might have put themselves not too far from a seat on the plane. Throw in the obvious selections, like the Tomkins brothers and Sean O'Loughlin, and the national squad will have a Wigan flavour reminiscent of the great days.

Also in the tournament, but playing for New Zealand, will be Thomas Leuluai, the Harry Sunderland winner as man of the match at Old Trafford after being one of Wigan's unsung heroes all year long."He is the type of player who makes my job very easy," said Maguire of the scrum-half's characteristically busy performance.

As for Saints, it was a miserable way for Keiron Cunningham to end a distinguished career. Even in the twilight of his playing days, he had been their touchstone in the play-offs, but he had one of his least effective games on Saturday. St Helens were at their best, in fact, when James Roby was on the field, but they never built on the Andrew Dixon try that cut the deficit to 10 points before half-time.

In the second half, they made too many basic errors and conceded too many soft penalties to give themselves a chance of bouncing back. That means that Mick Potter will leave after two seasons with no trophies – a unique fate for a St Helens coach in the Super League era. "It could have been worse. We could have come 14th," Potter said of Saints' fourth Grand Final defeat in a row, adding that he had few regrets about what he had done at the club.

Nor should he have many. Potter is leaving the club a legacy of a fine crop of young players who have developed under his tutelage. The trouble on Saturday was that, without his half-back pairing of the injured Leon Pryce and Kyle Eastmond, he did not have enough direction in the middle of the park, even though Jonny Lomax and Matty Smith tried their hardest. It would have taken a St Helens side at their very best to have stopped Wigan – and they were well short of that.

Wigan will play St George Illawarra in next year's World Club Challenge after the merged club won their first NRL Grand Final, by beating the Sydney Roosters 32-8. The Roosters led 8-6 at half-time, but two tries from Jason Nightingale turned the tide, leaving Brian Smith still looking for his first title after 27 years of coaching.

St Helens: Wellens; Foster, Gidley, Meli, Lomax; Wilkin, Smith, Graham, Cunningham, Hargreaves, Soliola, Flannery, Puletua. Replacements: Roby, Clough, Dixon, Emmitt.

Wigan: S. Tomkins; Goulding, Gleeson, Carmont, Richards; Deacon, Leuluai, Fielden, McIlorum, Coley, Hansen, J. Tomkins, S. O'Loughlin. Replacements: Prescott, Riddell, Paleaaesina, Farrell.

Referee: R Silverwood (Dewsbury)

St Helens: Wellens; Foster, Gidley, Meli, Lomax; Wilkin, Smith, Graham, Cunningham, Hargreaves, Soliola, Flannery, Puletua. Replacements: Roby, Clough, Dixon, Emmitt.

Wigan: S. Tomkins; Goulding, Gleeson, Carmont, Richards; Deacon, Leuluai, Fielden, McIlorum, Coley, Hansen, J. Tomkins, S. O'Loughlin. Replacements: Prescott, Riddell, Paleaaesina, Farrell.

Referee: R Silverwood (Dewsbury)

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