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.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Rob Lowe
peopleRob Lowe hits out at Obama's snub of Benjamin Netanyahu
Sport
football
News
Davies (let) says: 'Everybody thought we were having an affair. It was never true!'
people'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
Arts and Entertainment
Over their 20 years, the band has built a community of dedicated followers the world over
music
News
Staff assemble outside the old City Road offices in London
mediaThe stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century at Britain's youngest paper
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

Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

Diana Krall interview

The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

Pinstriped for action

A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

Michael Calvin's Last Word

How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us