How Wigan earned night of glory, and what happens next for a club about to enter transition

Media playback is not supported on this device

Grand Final victories are not written in the stars, they’re written by the stars.

Those with a Wigan leaning suggested sentiment entitled them to a night of celebration at Old Trafford.

But forget romance. It was the cool and committed execution of defensive strategies and controlling sixth tackle plays that set up the euphoric climax to a host of Wigan careers.

Shaun Wane can celebrate one final piece of silverware – the sixth of his six-year reign – because of a performance that epitomised his coaching style. Wigan were ruthless in defence. You could sense their demonic delight in absorbing everything Warrington could throw at them.

And while they never threatened to cut loose with ball in hand, the way they often finished sets on their own terms in the second half simply stretched the tight wire of Warrington’s nerve until it finally snapped.

Who with a heart can begrudge Dom Manfredi that second and title-sealing try given the two years he has just had to endure? In the dark isolation of recovery from two potentially career-ending injuries, he admitted contemplating throwing in the towel.

His determination to carry on and grind his way back to fitness serves as an inspiration. He was the author of his own happy-ever-after fairytale finale – from grim to glory.

But this Grand Final victory marks a major turning point for both the Warriors and their coach.

Wane’s world is no longer Wigan. He has opted for a change of sport and a change of lifestyle, in working for Scottish Rugby Union on a part-time basis.

You wonder how stepping back from what he has described as an eight-day-a-week commitment, into which he invested heart and soul, will affect him.

It will at least give him plenty of time to reflect on the highs and lows of the six years he spent at Wigan, in which time he became the longest-serving head coach in the club’s modern history and the second most decorated.

And where now for Wigan? Along with Wane, two of their key, influential characters on the field are also leaving.

John Bateman, who moves to Canberra, has been the most consistent high-quality performer in the Warriors side this season, while Sam Tomkins, off to Catalans, has reinvented his role as leader and pivot.

They will take some replacing.

There has been a criticism of Wigan in recent years – mainly centred on the fact they have lacked flair. They are defined as a methodical, structured side and that has not always been to the liking of some observers, including a section of Wigan fans.

New coach Adrian Lam comes in for next year – and next year only – with a promise to excite. In the next month he will introduce himself to the Wigan players and introduce his new vision.

But as both Castleford and St Helens can testify in this last two years, flair wins you plaudits but it doesn’t win you prizes. Lam will have to make sure Wigan also retain plenty of the pragmatism of the Wane regime.

Then a year later the Shaun Edwards era begins. Show me a Wiganer who is not excited about that.

Warrington need belief

Warrington’s lesson from Grand Final defeat is that they don’t need reinvention, they just need belief.

They were a poor impersonation of themselves at their best.

Twice this season they have produced stellar performances – in the Challenge Cup against Wigan and the play-off semi-final at St Helens.

On those days they looked stylish, classy, confident and capable of not just beating the best, but being the best.

But twice when it has mattered – in the Grand Final and the Challenge Cup final – it went flat. They have to work out why.

Aside from when Stefan Ratchford accelerated into the line, they did not trouble Wigan at Old Trafford.

“This is our year” has gone from being a jaunty, optimistic chant from Wolves fans to an albatross around their collective necks.

You should only gloat about success when you have a shiny cup in your trophy cabinet.

That’s not to say 2019 won’t be their year.

If this season has taught us anything it is that the Wolves are hungry again. Coach Steve Price has re-energised his team to return back to the trophy-hunting pack where Tony Smith once had them.

And in Blake Austin they have made an astute signing for next year. The Aussie half-back – who, by the way, qualifies to play for England – could be a revelation in Super League next season.

So Warrington may be down in the dumps but sill have reason to retain optimism.

In the meantime, Wigan can party long and hard.

What a fitting and fond farewell for their large leaving contingent. And what a platform for the new regime to inherit.

Let’s block ads! (Why?)

BBC Sport – Rugby League

Leave a Reply