Wane’s fairy­tale fin­ish

Wi­gan are crowned cham­pi­ons to give coach per­fect send-off

The Sunday Telegraph - Sport - - Front Page - By Richard Jolly at Old Traf­ford

Af­ter more than three decades’ ser­vice to his beloved Wi­gan, af­ter seven years as head coach, Shaun Wane got his golden good­bye. He heads off to the Scot­tish Rugby Union with his home­town club in their favourite po­si­tion: on top. Wi­gan’s 22nd cham­pi­onship came cour­tesy of Wane’s third Grand Fi­nal win, a fit­ting farewell to a man who grew up 200 me­tres from War­riors’ for­mer home, Cen­tral Park.

“I am a Wi­gan lad, born and bred, and I have lived the dream for many years,” said Wane, who joined at 14 and is now 54. “It is an out­stand­ing feel­ing. It’s the best club in the world and it was a per­fect way for me to fin­ish. Never, in a mil­lion years did I think I would play for Wi­gan. I didn’t think I was good enough.” In­stead, he has flour­ished in so many ca­pac­i­ties, from prop to scout, vol­un­teer to academy man­ager.

It made it all the more fit­ting that Wi­gan’s match-win­ner was Dom Manfredi, one of a host of academy prod­ucts given their de­buts by Wane. The winger scored two tries to seal a tight, tense game. War­ring­ton’s wait to be cham­pi­ons dates back 63 years, since Brian Be­van was in the midst of a ca­reer that brought a record 740 tries on their right wing and when Win­ston Churchill was leav­ing 10 Down­ing Street, and his­tory re­peated it­self for Wolves.

This com­pleted an un­wanted hat­trick for a club that led against Wane’s Wi­gan in the 2013 and 2016 Grand Fi­nals but were beaten both times. War­ring­ton have twice fin­ished as league lead­ers and reached four Grand Fi­nals, but de­feat felt sadly pre­dictable for a team who had al­ready lost the Chal­lenge Cup fi­nal this year. Af­ter fin­ishhe ing ninth last sea­son, they are a team trans­formed in the first year of Steve Price’s man­age­ment, but while they had enough pos­ses­sion, they strug­gled to turn pres­sure into points as Wi­gan made tackle af­ter tackle.

“I thought their de­fence was out­stand­ing,” said Price. “I am su­per proud of the boys for the ef­fort they showed. It could have gone ei­ther way un­til the 77th minute. We have the back­bone of a tough re­silient team now.”

But Wi­gan’s grit was cru­cial. “I am not go­ing to put my­self in a bad mood think­ing about the per­for­mance, but I didn’t think we were ever go­ing to lose it,” Wane said. “There was enough spirit and de­sire.”

Their iron de­fence was only breached once, when Ste­fan Ratch­ford, the win­ner of the Harry Sun­der­land Tro­phy, sent Josh Charn­ley over in the corner. It was a role re­ver­sal for the winger, who had scored for Wi­gan against War­ring­ton in the 2016 Grand Fi­nal, but War­riors soon did not need to rue the one who got away.

Be­fore long, both of Wi­gan’s mod­ern-day wingers had touched down, Manfredi tak­ing Oliver Gil­dart’s pass to score and Tom Davies div­ing on to George Wil­liams’s grub­ber kick.

Just when the sec­ond half seemed likely to end score­less, Manfredi eased Wi­gan’s nerves by meet­ing Sam Tomkins’s pass to dou­ble his tally. It was a fi­nal con­tri­bu­tion from a man who be­gan his Wi­gan ca­reer with five tries on his de­but but Tomkins, who has signed a four-year deal with Cata­lan Dragons, nev­er­the­less took his leave in con­tro­ver­sial fash­ion.

War­ring­ton were twice an­noyed by mis­judged chal­lenges. The sec­ond, when Tomkins slid in, knees first, on Daryl Clark, led to a melee at half-time. Price said: “That would have been a yel­low card in a nor­mal game.” But Tomkins stayed on to de­part a win­ner. So did John Bate­man and Ryan Sut­ton, who are both head­ing for the Can­berra Raiders.

Manfredi could have made an un­hap­pier exit. He had con­sid­ered re­tire­ment when two se­ri­ous knee in­juries kept him from play­ing for 762 days. But had scored two tries on his come­back against War­ring­ton and re­peated the feat against favourite op­po­si­tion again. Just as im­por­tantly, he made two try-sav­ing in­ter­ven­tions in the sec­ond half, hold­ing Ty­rone Roberts’s high kick and tack­ling Tom Line­ham into touch, to pre­serve Wi­gan’s lead.

“He is a spe­cial kid and there is a place in my heart for him,” added Wane. Watched by ar­guably Wi­gan’s great­est winger, Martin Of­fiah, Manfredi took his place in the club’s folk­lore.

“Just to be back play­ing is big enough for me, that was my aim for this year,” he said. “But to run out with these lads and win a Grand Fi­nal is un­be­liev­able. The char­ac­ters leav­ing this year de­serve that, any­thing short it would not have been good enough. We would have never for­given our­selves, so we needed to win.”

The fore­most of those char­ac­ters was Wane, who squirmed un­der the spot­light in his long good­bye. “I didn’t re­alise how un­com­fort­able I would be with it,” he said, af­ter welling up in the dress­ing room and, to his play­ers’ amuse­ment, danc­ing. “Wi­gan have been fan­tas­tic for me and I think I have done a bit for the club as well. I will miss ev­ery­thing about it.”

Handy man: Wi­gan’s Tom Davies beats the War­ring­ton de­fence to touch down for his side’s sec­ond try at Old Traf­ford and (be­low) the ju­bi­lant Wi­gan play­ers cel­e­brate their tri­umph

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