Paul Wood handed a perfect stage to put the horrors of depression behind him

Final call is reward for rediscovering his best form after infamous injury and life lows

Rugby League Correspondent

Wherever you look in the Warrington team that Tony Smith will put on the Old Trafford field for the Super League Grand Final this evening, there is evidence in support of his promise that selection owes everything to form and nothing to reputations.

Smith is likely to leave out two perfectly fit Australian internationals and, in the starting front row, he will play not the Test stars Adrian Morley and Garreth Carvell but a man who has had the most troubled 12 months.

It was in last year’s Grand Final that Paul Wood suffered one of the game’s most notorious injuries and went into a spiral of depression that led him briefly to contemplate suicide. An accidental collision during the defeat by Leeds resulted in him losing a testicle, a painful event that he seemed at first to be shrugging off with typically macho humour. He was prone to point out: “I’ve still got one left.”

In an interview for the Rugby League’s State of Mind charity, he admitted: “I was loving it at first – people were ringing me up for interviews, even American radio stations. But once that had stopped, that’s when I started spiralling, really.”

Previously diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder, Wood found his deepening depression put his marriage under pressure. For a time, he dated a glamour model, Holly Henderson, previously to be found on the arm of Mario Balotelli.

With hindsight, it was not so much glamour which had come into his life as chaos. “I just had a bad day one day and thought ‘What’s the point?’ – a 20-minute period when I wasn’t thinking straight.”

It did not seem to bode well for the new Super League season, but Wood has pulled out of his depression with some of the best form of his career, saying that this has been his most enjoyable time in the game for the last 10 years.

Thus it is that he will be starting the match at Old Trafford, rather than filling the substitute’s role in which he had sometimes seemed trapped.

Mickey Higham, Stefan Ratchford and Simon Grix do not have as dramatic a story to tell, but all of them might have expected to be predominantly bench players this season. Higham, however, has been voted Warrington’s Player of the Year, and has been starting ahead of the accomplished Michael Monaghan.

It is an arrangement that seems to suit both players. “I’ve learnt a lot from him,” says Higham, one of the indestructibly cheerful stalwarts of the code. “I don’t know if he’s learnt much from me.”

Ratchford could say the same about Brett Hodgson, a former Man of Steel whom he is likely to keep out today.

Wigan’s side has not evolved in the way most experts expected either. Some of the positions that were predicted to be potential weaknesses have turned out to be strengths.

At centre, for instance, fans despaired of replacing George Carmont satisfactorily. In the understated craftsmanship of Darrell Goulding and the physical presence of Iain Thornley – back from a sojourn in rugby union – they have found a combination that works.

Likewise the half-back partnership of Blake Green and Matty Smith, was not one which was anticipated with great excitement, but one which has got better and better.

Much, though, will inevitably hinge on two players. Sam Tomkins is playing his last match for Wigan before departing for the NRL and, if the scriptwriters have their way, will have one of his irresistible games.

The man Tomkins calls “Wigan’s best player” – the captain and loose forward, Sean O’Loughlin, has been declared fit after an Achilles injury and they need him to be at his best.

Doubts still linger over whether Wigan are truly an exceptional enough side to become the first since St Helens in 2006 to win the double of Challenge Cup and Super League. On paper, perhaps not.

Warrington have their own history to overcome. The last time they could call themselves champions was in the era of Brian Bevan and Harry Bath in 1955 and they have won only one of 10 major finals against Wigan.

That will count for less than which side will control the ball better in what could well be an outstanding Grand Final.

Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tvWhy BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
News
Campbell: ‘Sometimes you have to be economical with the truth’
newsFormer spin doctor says MPs should study tactics of leading sports figures like José Mourinho
Sport
football
Life and Style
Agretti is often compared to its relative, samphire, though is closer in taste to spinach
food + drink
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Kelly Osbourne will play a flight attendant in Sharknado 2
people
News
Down-to-earth: Winstone isn't one for considering his 'legacy'
people
News
The dress can be seen in different colours
i100
Sport
Wes Brown is sent-off
football
Voices
Lance Corporal Joshua Leakey VC
voicesBeware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Life and Style
Alexander McQueen's AW 2009/10 collection during Paris Fashion Week
fashionMeet the collaborators who helped create the late designer’s notorious spectacles
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003
Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Alexander McQueen: The catwalk was a stage for the designer's astonishing and troubling vision

Alexander McQueen's astonishing vision

Ahead of a major retrospective, Alexander Fury talks to the collaborators who helped create the late designer's notorious spectacle
New BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain, from Vesta curries to nouvelle cuisine

Dinner through the decades

A new BBC series challenged Brandon Robshaw and his family to eat their way from the 1950s to the 1990s
Philippa Perry interview: The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course

Philippa Perry interview

The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef recreates the exoticism of the Indonesian stir-fry

Bill Granger's Indonesian stir-fry recipes

Our chef was inspired by the south-east Asian cuisine he encountered as a teenager
Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

Harry Kane interview

The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

Michael Calvin's Last Word

For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?