Wane’s fairytale finish
Wigan are crowned champions to give coach perfect send-off
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