Wigan Warriors kept their promise to send head coach Shaun Wane out on a high as they ground out a fifth Betfred Super League title with a 12-4 victory over Warrington Wolves in an error-strewn but compelling Grand Final.
Winger Dom Manfredi, only recently back from more than two years out of the game with a career-threatening knee injury, was the Warriors’ blood-splattered hero with two of his side’s three tries.
The Wigan players attempted to play down the sentimental factor in the build-up but the tears at the end of an absorbing contest told a different tale as they joyous celebrated with Wane, who will now go into rugby union with a third Grand Final ring.
Warrington took the lead after 14 minutes through former Wigan winger Josh Charnley but the Warriors produced a stellar defensive display thereafter and led 8-4 at the break following tries from Manfredi and Tom Davies.
The Wolves continued to battle, with Stefan Ratchford in inspired form to earn the Harry Sunderland trophy as man of the match, but Wigan finally settled the tie four minutes from the end when Manfredi took Tomkins’ pass to dive over for his second score.
There was also a fitting finale for Tomkins, John Bateman and Ryan Sutton but there were tears of a different kind for the Wolves as slumped to a fourth defeat in as many Grand Finals.
Tyrone Roberts, George King and Bodene Thompson were all on the losing side in their final match for Warrington, who also fell agonisingly short in the Ladbrokes Challenge Cup final at Wembley in August.
Wane hailed the third Grand Final victory as Wigan boss as the ‘perfect end’ as he brings the curtain down on a 35-year association with the club.
“It’s the perfect end,” said Wane. “I’m not going to put myself in a bad mood thinking about the performance because I don’t have to do that any more.
“I didn’t ever think we were going to lose the game – there was enough spirit and desire in the team.
“It was a win and the only way to drive out of here is with a cup and a ring.
“I’m so pleased for all my staff and players who have had to put up with me for many years; I’m not easy to work with or work for. They’ve made my career special.
“It was a very emotional dressing room and a tough one.
“It wouldn’t have defined my career if we’d lost that but I’m so glad we won. I’m going to have a good month and a drink. We’ve had a good journey.”
Shaun Wane, Wiganer. 🏆 pic.twitter.com/fwnpZwGh0X— Wigan Warriors 🍒⚪️ (@WiganWarriorsRL) October 13, 2018
“Wigan’s been fantastic for me and I think I’ve done a bit for the club as well.
“I’ll miss everything about it but this has made the next few months very enjoyable.”
Warrington head coach Steve Price praised Wigan after their victory, but is optimistic for the future of his club despite defeats in both finals in his maiden season in Super League.
“Defensively they were outstanding and hard to break down. They kept turning us away on the tryline and we did the same to them.
“There wasn’t much between both sides but credit to Wigan tonight.”
“We’ve got a backbone of a really tough, resilient football team now and that showed through some great displays throughout the season,” he said.
“To knock off the league leaders (St Helens) last week and give ourselves a chance right up to the 77th minute tonight, I’m super proud. We’ll come back bigger and better next year.”