Saturday, 28 September 2013

Wigan Reach Grand Final In Style

Warrington's narrow win over Huddersfield on Thursday meant the prospect of the long awaited 'Wire v Wigan' final was on the cards as Wigan played host to reigning champions Leeds at the DW.

Wigan looked to avenge the 13-12 defeat from the previous year while bidding farewells to Pat Richards, Lee Mossop, Chris Tuson and the mercurial Sam Tomkins. Leeds having come away from a tough 11-10 win over St Helens knew that Wigan at the DW would be different to the game they won earlier in the month.

Leeds kicked off to Wigan but it was the Rhinos who had the first scoring chance as a pass to Jones-Bishop on the wing saw him fly over for a try or so it would seem as Bentham went to the video referee who on review deemed that the ball had not been grounded and despite a 'NO TRY' it was an early wake up call for Wigan.

Wigan learnt from their early error after Leeds were penalised for offside and from the kick an amazing pass from Richards on the line saw Thornley dive over for the opening try to send the home fans wild and they continued as Richards sent over the conversion for a 6-0 lead.

Leeds had a great chance to score when Watkins picked out Jones-Bishop but strong defence from Wigan saw the winger tackled into touch, Liam Farrell made a break to Jack Hughes who was held short with the try line in sight and Hall broke free for Leeds but with a lack of support the move broke down.

Richards made a superb break after intercepting but was tackled by Kirke close to the 20 metre line, a try would have been a certainty in Richards' earlier career but his ageing legs allowed the defender to catch him.

As the interval came, a single score separated the sides meaning the next try would be important to the shape of the game. Leeds came to life within four minutes of the restart as a quick break by Ablett saw him racing clear of the Wigan defence but he chose to offload to the supporting Moon who went over for the try, Sinfield converted and the sides were level at 6 all.

Wigan were back in front in the 53rd minute as a run from Green saw him find Farrell who flew over the line for the try to the joy of the South Stand and seconds earlier I actually said it had been a while since he had scored, another textbook conversion from Richards saw Wigan lead 12-6.

The lead increased inside five minutes as a clever grubber kick by Matty Smith was fumbled by Ablett and Goulding was on hand to collect the ball and swoop over the line for a brilliant try, as Richards hit his third successive conversion surely the game was won for Wigan with a 18-6 lead.

Leeds thought otherwise as a superb pass from Burrow put Moon clear and certain to score with the Wigan defenders behind him but out of nowhere, Hansen caught him and forced him to knock on inches from the try line as Leeds looked for a way back into the game.

The desperation was clear minutes later with another mistake from Leeds as Hardaker dropped to give Wigan back possession after Wigan had been forced dropout from in goal, time ticked on into the final ten minutes and Smith attempted a drop goal but was blocked as Leeds gained possession.

The result was all but sealed with eight minutes remaining as a dash from Smith to maybe try another drop goal attempt saw him pick out Goulding who hit a pinpoint pass to Charnley who raced over for the try, his 42nd of the season but Richards missed the conversion to give Leeds a glimmer of hope at 22-6.

Leeds hit a short kick-off but Wigan claimed the ball and received a penalty after Bailey held on too long when tackling Tomkins and Wigan elected to kick for goal but a narrow miss from Richards kept the score at 22-6, Leeds went in for their second try in the 77th minute scored by Sutcliffe but even though Sinfield converted they were still 10 points behind at 22-12.

As the final seconds counted down the Wigan fans began to celebrate with the full time hooter causing a roar from the home fans and ecstatic euphoria as Wigan avenged their 2012 exit and reached their first Grand Final in three years since 2010, the year that Leeds last failed to reach the showpiece event having lost out to Wigan in similar circumstances.

An amazing game and an electric atmosphere were a perfect way for the four departing Warriors to bid farewells to the faithful DW crowd but with a Grand Final clash against Warrington next Saturday they can go out with a bang and on a personal level after two consecutive Grand Final attendances without Wigan, it will be delightful to be there to see them for a second time in four years.

Thursday, 26 September 2013

Wigan Seek Revenge Over Leeds

Wigan host Leeds on Friday in the play-off semi final with a place in the 2013 Grand Final at stake in what will be an emotional night at the DW.

Wigan will bid farewell to Lee Mossop, Chris Tuson and legends Pat Richards and Sam Tomkins with all raring to go out with a Grand Final win next week. Wigan are especially fired up for the game with last year's exit still haunting many people after a Sinfield penalty in the final seconds saw Leeds secure a 13-12 win over then League Leaders Wigan who went on to win the Grand Final against Warrington.

Leeds will be looking for a third consecutive Grand Final victory to join their wins over St Helens and Warrington (2011/2012) and may face a new opponent should League Leaders Huddersfield overcome Warrington tonight.

Wigan -Josh Charnley, Dom Crosby, Gil Dudson, Liam Farrell, Ben Flower, Anthony Gelling, Darrell Goulding, Blake Green, Harrison Hansen, Jack Hughes, Michael McIlorum, Lee Mossop, Sam Powell, Pat Richards, Matty Smith, Scott Taylor, Iain Thornley, Logan Tomkins, Sam Tomkins.

Leeds - Zak Hardaker, Ben Jones-Bishop, Kallum Watkins, Joel Moon, Ryan Hall, Danny McGuire, Rob Burrow, Kylie Leuluai, Jamie Peacock, Jamie Jones-Buchanan, Carl Ablett, Kevin Sinfield (c), Brett Delaney, Ryan Bailey, Ian Kirke, Chris Clarkson, Mitch Achurch, Brad Singleton, Liam Sutcliffe.

As with the league meeting earlier in the month, it will be a close game but Wigan need the win more having not reached the Grand Final since 2010 so I think them having the last week off will prove important and as such predict Wigan 24 Leeds 22. 

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Wigan Face Leeds In Play Off Semi

Wigan will host Leeds on Friday night after Warrington cluballed League Leaders Huddersfield who they will host on Thursday night. Many thought Warrington would repeat the previous two clubcalls which saw Leeds chosen by themselves and Wigan with the Rhinos being eventual winners of both Grand Finals.

This comes after Huddersfield demolished Hull FC 76-18 on Thursday night after being 54-6 up at half time and Leeds needed a late drop goal from McGuire to secure a 11-10 win over St Helens. The lineup of the two semis means that the prospect of a first ever Wigan v Warrington final is once again a possibility which will please those who have wanted it for years.

Thursday 26th September

Warrington Wolves v Huddersfield Giants

Friday 27th September

Wigan Warriors v Leeds Rhinos

Saturday, 14 September 2013

Giants Dwarfed By Warriors

Wigan secured a safe passage to the final week of the play-offs and put themselves within touching distance of the Grand Final with a pulsating win over League Leaders Huddersfield.

Huddersfield went into the tie the inform team and at full strength while Wigan were missing their mercurial captain Sean O'Loughlin and star centre Darrell Goulding as they hoped to halt a run of four league defeats.

The Giants got off to a brilliant start in the pouring rain as they forced Wigan to concede two goal line dropouts inside four minutes and the pressure paid off as a swift shimmy by Brough saw him slice the Warriors defence and race clear to open the scoring which he increased by converting successfully for a 6-0 lead.

Wigan needed to pull back with the rainfall increasing and had a great chance minutes later as Flower sped down the middle and a grubber kick forced a dropout for the Giants but from the resulting kick off, Wigan wasted the chance with a forward pass.

Wigan got lucky in the 24th minute as quick hands saw Gelling in space down the right and he threw a pass to Charnley who slid over the line for a staggering 40th try of the season and Richards hit a superb conversion to level the game at 6 all.

Huddersfield fell behind after the kick off went out on the full and the confident Richards selected to kick for goal from halfway and did so spectacularly to give Wigan a 6-8 lead but their own indiscipline cost the Warriors as Brough kicked a penalty to level at 8 all with a minute remaining of the first half.

Wigan started the second period with heavy pressure after receiving from the kick off as they forced three successive drop outs hoping Huddersfield's defence would crack and see them increase their lead but the defence held firm.

However, the pressure soon paid off as Green and Gelling combined to send Charnley over for a record breaking 41st try of the season  in the 55th minute and another stunning conversion from Richards put his side 8-14 in front.

Huddersfield needed something special to break open a Wigan defence that had held firm since Brough's early try but their attacks were nullified as the defence stayed strong but their hopes stuttered as Smith swept over a drop goal for Wigan with 14 to go to open up a seven point lead.

The lead increased to 13 and all but sealed a win for Wigan as Green raced clear for an amazing try as he spied a gap in the tiring Giants defence and took advantage to send the travelling fans into a deafening roar of celebration which increased as Richards sent over a third successive kick and Wigan led 8-21.

The final minutes saw the Wigan fans berating their opponents by singing ' We can see you sneaking out' a spin on the chant that the Giants fans had used in their win at Wigan last month and their mood hit rock bottom at the sound of the hooter as Smith rubbed salt in the wound by kicking an audacious drop goal to seal a 8-22 win and send Wigan through to a home tie in week three and only a win away from a trip to Old Trafford for the second time in four years.

An amazing night and atmosphere that I was proud to be part of as Wigan again proved to be the masters when it comes to a rainy surface just like they had at Wembley, to honest I think the nerves got to Hudds having been League Leaders but as a Warrior, I know winning the LLS can be a curse as we found last year in club-calling  Leeds who went on to become champions after beating us 13-12 in the semi final.

 On a final note, I was shocked that Huddersfield failed to attract a decent crowd for such a big game as an attendance of about 7,000 even on a Thursday is poor when it was rumoured that we took 2,000 up to Huddersfield for the game.

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Wigan face League Leaders Huddersfield

After the defeat to Leeds in Friday, Wigan face a trip to table toppers Huddersfield in week one of the play-offs. 

The two sides met last month in a game that saw Wigan's hopes of retaining the League Leaders Shield all but end and put the Giants in pole position for their first title in 81 years. 

Due to both finishing in the top four, they know a loss is not the end of their chances with the week two eliminator giving them one final chance to qualify for the week three semis which for Wigan could see an eliminator next week against fierce rivals St Helens.

Wigan welcome back Gil Dudson but  Darrell Goulding and Sean O'Loughlin miss out due to injury while Huddersfield name a near unchanged team from the sides last meeting with Ben Blackmore named in the 19.

Huddersfield - Grix, Cudjoe, Wardle, McGillvary, Brough, Robinson, Crabtree, Lunt, Kopczak, Ferres, Faiumu, Lawrence, Patrick, Chan, Ta'ai, Murphy, Ferguson,Blackmore, Wood.

Wigan - Josh Charnley, Dom Crosby, Gil Dudson, Liam Farrell, Ben Flower, Anthony Gelling, Blake Green, Harrison Hansen, Jack Hughes, Michael McIlorum, Lee Mossop, Andy Powell, Sam Powell, Pat Richards, Matty Smith, Scott Taylor, Iain Thornley, Sam Tomkins, Chris Tuson.

Form into the play-offs can sometimes be irrelevant as Leeds have shown in recent years by finishing fifth and going on to win the Grand Final and after being humbled last month by Huddersfield, Wigan need a win to silence the doubters and I think given the extra few days preparation they may get it. 
So I am going for Hudds 24 Wigan 30.  

Friday, 6 September 2013

Rhinos Pip Warriors To Third

It seems like just yesterday that Wigan were preparing for the first round of the season against Salford but the reality is that they are reflecting on a defeat to Leeds in the final round which saw them fall to and finish in fourth place.

The pre-match build up focused on the Man of Steel shirts and sponsorship for each side with both fielding past Men of Steel - Jamie Peacock for Leeds and Sam Tomkins and Pat Richards for Wigan and for Richards along with Tuson and Mossop it was a final Super League home game before moving to pastures new for 2014.

Both sides made cagey starts with kicking being the main focus of the early sets but Leeds went over for a try against the run of play and the decision was handed 'upstairs' to the video referee who deemed a 'no try' for a double movement while Wigan breathed a sigh of relief.

Wigan could have scored themselves after a superb 40/20 kick by Green put them in a great position and as a result, Thornley went over for a try but it was chalked off for a forward pass in the build up

 Leeds forced two dropouts in succession as they threatened to open the scoring which they did in the 24th minute after Green's pass to Richards was intercepted close to the Leeds line and saw Ben Jones-Bishop race away leaving the Wigan chasing defenders for dust as he went over for the opening try but Sinfield's missed kick meant a slim 0-4 lead.

Green came close to making up for his mistake on the half-hour as he sent a pass to Thornley who rushed at the defence but the next play saw Wigan fail to take advantage and Leeds gained the ball via the turnover.

Wigan did take the lead two minutes before the interval as Green broke through the Leeds defence and raced away but with Hardaker ahead of him he passed to Richards who evaded the full back to dash over the line to a roar from the Warriors fans and he got similar praise as he swept over the conversion for a 6-4 lead at half time.

Leeds took just two minutes before they retook the lead after a great offload by Moon sent Ablett in and Sinfield kicked successfully for a 6-10 lead. Wigan could have gone further behind just on the hour mark as Watkins came close to scoring but was prevented by fine defence from the Warriors.

The lead did increase minutes later as Hall linked a pass to Moon down the left and over he went for the try and as Sinfield added the extras for 6-16, Wigan needed a miracle to keep third place.

It was surely game over within minutes as Leeds went in again as Watkins hit a grubber kick from 10m and collected his own kick to go over for the try to the cheers of the Rhinos fans and the groans of the home fans who had a small cheer when Sinfield missed the goal, 6-20.

Wigan pushed to score but to no avail and as the hooter sounded it confirmed another miserable defeat for Wigan and their third in succession in the league and meant that they would finish fourth in the table and as such travel to face League Leaders Huddersfield on Thursday in Play-offs Week One.

Another failed prediction but the result was clear after the hour mark as Wigan were struggling to get anywhere partially due to consistently poor refereeing by Silverwood who in a five minute period in the second half missed six clear forward passes by Leeds so if this is the state of the referees in Super League then the next game is going to be a massive challenge.

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Warriors V Rhinos on a Thursday!

Thanks to Sky TV and the RFL, one of the biggest games of the season which should be the finale of the final regular round is instead the first game of the weekend and is broadcast on Thursday due to the new schedules.

Wigan host Leeds in a winner take all clash that sees the two battling to finish third with the result a trip to Warrington in the play-offs and the loser placing fourth and facing a trip to League Leaders Shield winners Huddersfield.

Both sides will wear a limited edition shirt featuring the famous Superman 'S' as a publicity stunt for the upcoming release of the film Man of Steel in December and is apt being that the current Man Of Steel, Sam Tomkins will play on Thursday night.

Many fans see a trip to Warrington the more daunting and as such wouldn't mind their team losing in order to get an 'easier' draw but personally we had this situation last year with a good amount of Warriors fans glad when Saints won at the DW on the final weekend only to then celebrate claiming the League Leaders Shield.

Wigan really need a win to stem their dip in form which had seen defeats to Hull and Huddersfield either side of their Wembley triumph and a third straight league defeat would not be a good impetus for the play-offs. Leeds go into the Wigan trip on the back of a close win over Catalan but with a preceding defeat to Hull KR, their form needs a boost.

Good news for Wigan is that Ryan Bailey is suspended for the game as he has been a thorn in their side and also the return of  Sam Tomkins, Josh Charnley, Darrell Goulding, Pat Richards, Blake Green, Matty Smith, Michael McIlorum. Lee Mossop, Harrison Hansen and Liam Farrell to the squad. but skipper Sean O'Loughlin misses the game though with a calf injury.

Leeds welcome back Rob Burrow and Alex Foster is included after Bailey's suspension, Jamie Jones-Buchanan and Brett Delaney also return from injury

Wigan - Josh Charnley, Dom Crosby, Liam Farrell, Ben Flower, Anthony Gelling, Darrell Goulding, Blake Green, Harrison Hansen, Michael McIlorum, Lee Mossop, Andy Powell, Sam Powell, Pat Richards, Matty Smith, Scott Taylor, Iain Thornley, Sam Tomkins, Logan Tomkins, Chris Tuson

Leeds - Zak Hardaker, Ben Jones-Bishop, Kallum Watkins, Joel Moon, Ryan Hall, Danny McGuire, Rob Burrow, Kylie Leuluai, Jamie Peacock, Jamie Jones- Buchanan, Carl Ablett, Kevin Sinfield, Brett Delaney, Alex Foster, Ian Kirke, Chris Clarkson, Mitch Achurch, Brad Singleton, Liam Sutcliffe.

 Both meetings this season have been won with less than a converted try as the deficit between the sides so I anticipate a similar outcome this week and as such will go for Wigan 24 Leeds 20.

Sunday, 1 September 2013

Hull Claim Last Gasp Revenge Over Youthful Warriors

The previews called it 'The Rematch' after Wigan defeated Hull at Wembley on Saturday but when Wigan announced a 19 bereft of most of the Wembley heroes, the mood among the fans was that it was a team of under 19's that would struggle against a more experienced Hull FC.

Wigan handed a senior debut to 19's star winger Dom Manfredi and Ryan Hampshire moved from the traditional full back position to play in the halves while Lewis Tierney took his place at the back.

The early stages saw the home side break with a good chance to open the scoring but Jack Hughes found himself with no support and offloaded to thin air as the move broke down and Hull gained the advantage and took it as Holdsworth threw a long pass to an unmarked Crookes who went over in the corner which was added to by Tickle's successful conversion for 0-6.

Hull threw away the chance to score in the next set after a forward pass and both sides exchanged set after set with the score remaining at 0-6 until the introduction of former Welsh Rugby Union International Andy Powell in the 19th minute which  added more power to the Wigan attack and minutes later he broke the Hull defensive line and raced clear to the awe of the home fans who went wild as he went over for his first Warriors try which was converted by Hampshire for 6 all.

Wigan gave the ball away from the kick off as nerves got the better of Manfredi and he knocked on and within five minutes, Hull were back in front as Shaul combined with Holdsworth and Yeaman to pick out Briscoe who went over in the corner and again Tickle converted superbly for 6-12.

Crookes couldn't believe his luck when he was in open space to take a catch but fine defence from Burgess and Thornley denied him a second try which gave Wigan hope and they soon levelled minutes before the interval as a short pass from Tomkins saw Flower go over for the try and Hampshire duly converted for 12 all.

12 all at halftime would have been welcomed by the home fans but seconds before the hooter, Wigan took the lead with and amazing piece of pace by Hampshire as he was picked out by the breaking Gelling and even though he missed the conversion he put the young Warriors 16-12 up at half time.

Hull were split wide open by a succession of kicks by Hampshire but his momentum evaded him as he went to touchdown over the line but was applauded for the effort by the home fans who were enjoying seeing the youngster fool the Hull defenders who were soon ruing a penalty as Wigan sprayed the ball out to the wing and for Joe Burgess to slide over in the corner for his first Warriors try and well deserved after his recent performances and an amazing kick from Hampshire gave Wigan a 22-12 lead .

Wigan were on fire as Sam Powell kicked an awesome 40/20, that Matty Smith would be proud of and gave them great field position and Powell kicked again with Thornley collecting for the try and the miss by Hampshire from the kick still saw Wigan move to 26-12 and in a commanding position.

Shaul broke away for Hull and Wigan were pegged back as Crookes was again left alone on the wing to take the ball and score his second try, Tickle missed the goal but the deficit was only ten at 26-16.
Crookes seemed to be invisible to the Wigan defence as within minutes he racked up his hat-trick after a long pass from the middle and with Tickle's goal, Wigan were pegged right back at 26-22.

Hull now had the momentum and with Manfredi tackled in goal, they were awarded a goal-line dropout and Wigan were soon penalised again which saw Westerman go over just to the left of the posts and just like that Hull were level as Tickle missed a simple kick from in front of the posts at 26 all.

Wigan needed to get back their earlier form and did so via a jaw-dropping boot from Powell which flew into the air and was allowed to bounce by Shaul oblivious to the chasing Gelling who collected the ball and went over for the try to a roar from the home fans and Hampshire's goal made it 32-26.

Sam Powell sent over a drop goal to hand Wigan a 33-32 lead but Hull closed to a single point deficit  amongst controversy as the clock had been stopped at '5.03' and had not resumed when Briscoe went in for the try to bemusement from the home fans and Tickle kicked for 33-32.

Hull pulled level on the next set as Holdsworth kicked a drop goal to set up a tense finish but from a scrum, Powell instantly went for goal but saw his effort sail wide and Hull went down the other end to seal the win with Holdsworth kicking his second drop goal to the heartbreak of the Wigan faithful. 

Despite the loss, the Wigan crowd applauded the young lads who had become men on the DW stage and it was cruel for them to lose having pushed Hull all the way but their inexperience did cost them as Powell's late attempt may not have been rushed had he been advised to wait until in a better position but the question is whether he thought it was the final seconds and just went for the win.

Many others and myself said that the game was far better than at Wembley and even though it was a loss it was an amazing performance by a team of young lads who have shown that for Wigan the future is not only Cherry and White but truly bright.