Wigan can today bring the curtain down on a seven-year exile from the Super League Grand Final which would have been unthinkable not long ago by booking their place at Old Trafford.
Once so dominant in the British game, they have not reached the Grand Final since 2003 and not won the title since 1998. But under the new Michael Maguire regime, Wigan have often looked this year as though their time has finally come. They won the League Leaders' Trophy and were the most consistent side in the regular season.
However, there is a snag. Wigan have been this far in the qualifying semi-finals three times since 2003 and have been beaten by today's opponents Leeds each time. Even this season, the Rhinos have won the games between them that really mattered – their Challenge Cup tie and the first round of the play-offs a fortnight ago.
That dramatic, single-point victory to Leeds has left a legacy of ill feeling between the clubs. Perhaps more crucially, it has deprived the Rhinos of the services of the injured Danny McGuire, who will be on the sidelines, along with the equally influential Jamie Peacock.
Their absence should be enough to swing the balance towards Wigan, but the Warriors need to keep their nerve and control their tendency to give away crucial penalties. The Tomkins brothers, Sam and Joel, for all their talent, need to keep their cool to be effective.
Leeds' Oldham-born and -based captain, Kevin Sinfield, has taken time out from his own preparations this week to help his hometown club, who play York in the Championship 1 Grand Final tomorrow, after losing at the same stage for the last three years. Now they hope that Sinfield's expert input can give them the final push.
"Kevin was brilliant," said the Oldham coach, Tony Benson yesterday. "He clearly has a soft spot for the Roughyeds. His talk was inspirational and extremely valuable."
That Grand Final is the middle element in a triple-header at Warrington tomorrow. Underbank play Warrington Wizards for the RL Conference title and the day climaxes with Featherstone facing Halifax in the Championship Grand Final.Reuse content