Wigan, including six members of England’s World Cup squad, showed the sort of resilience that will be needed in the global tournament after their fine comeback to win the Super League Grand Final and do the double.
In the last game of the domestic season the Warriors battled back from a 16-2 deficit to beat Warrington 30-16 at Old Trafford. It was not so much one outstanding Grand Final as two entirely different ones, joined at the hip.
Grimly determined would be another way of putting it and the England coach, Steve McNamara, will be hoping that he can tap into that sort of spirit when the World Cup starts on 26 October.
The Wolves dominated the first half, but Shaun Wane’s men came up with the biggest-ever Super League fightback. There was little pretty about it and nothing too clever. “But they were just relentless,” said the Warrington coach, Tony Smith, in charge of the losing side for the second year running.
Wigan’s usually potent right-wing partnership of Darrell Goulding and Josh Charnley, for instance, had a nightmare first half, but stuck to their task to play a major part in their side’s resurgence.
Michael McIlorum ran Blake Green close for the Harry Sunderland Medal as man of the match with a non-stop display at hooker, which showed why he is a challenger to James Roby for that position in the England team.
Sam Tomkins bade farewell to the Wigan shirt with a steadying game at full-back. The New Zealand Warriors are getting a player who will be badly missed in Super League.
For most of the fortnight leading up to the Grand Final, it seemed that Wigan would badly miss Sean O’Loughlin at Old Trafford, but the Warriors’ captain got rid of the cast on his ankle and played a leader’s role.
When he limped off in the second half, it looked as though that would be the end of his contribution. After seven minutes, however, he was back – and he provided the long pass to Pat Richards for the game’s final try.
McNamara will be keeping his fingers crossed now that O’Loughlin has come through without aggravating his Achilles problem, because he has no convincing rival for the job of England loose-forward.
It will be forgotten in the long term that Warrington did everything right in the first half, except the blatant punch in the face which Ben Westwood gave Green after only two minutes. Westwood got away with it at the time, although the RFL will look at the incident this week. Outstanding player though he is, getting himself sent off at the start of a match against Australia or New Zealand would be the sort of hot-headedness England cannot afford.
Wigan’s Harrison Hansen could also face action for the “cannonball” tackle on Stefan Ratchford that left him with ligament damage in both ankles.
Warrington have rebuilding to do, with the departure of Adrian Morley, Garreth Carvell and Brett Hodgson, but it was hard to disagree with Smith when he promised that they would be there or thereabouts again next season.
As for Wigan, they will be content to continue to overachieve, although whether anyone can be persuaded to encourage them by writing them off for next season must be open to doubt.
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