Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Super League Grand Final Thoughts

After beginning the 2015 season on a cold Thursday night in Widnes, the most exciting season for a  long time came to an end on Saturday night at Old Trafford as Leeds and Wigan faced off in the Super League Grand Final.

The meeting was the first between the two sides at the 'Theatre of Dreams' since the 1996 Premiership final which the Warriors won and ahead of this weekend's event the Rhinos had yet to defeat their opponents in any final. Both sides named strong 17's with the Rhinos hoping to give a farewell to the departing trio of Kevin Sinfield, Jamie Peacock and Kylie Leuluai. Wigan also had upcoming departures as Matt Bowen and Joe Burgess looked to complete superb final seasons while Larne Patrick hoped to end his loan spell on a high before a return to Huddersfield.

A full house at Old Trafford of 73,512 anticipated a classic final and they got just that as the sides shared a total of 42 points across the 80 minutes. Wigan began the scoring as a superb run from Liam Farrell allowed him to put Joe Burgess in the clear for the first try inside five minutes which Matt Bowen converted for a 6-0 lead. However, Leeds fought back within three minutes as Danny McGuire touched down but the decision was delayed due to a video review before being awarded and Kevin Sinfield levelled with the conversion at 6-6.

Leeds went ahead on 27 minutes as Joel Moon found space and crossed to open up a 10-6 lead which remained after Sinfield missed the conversion attempt but he was on target just before the interval as he converted a second try from McGuire on 37 minutes to send the Rhinos 16-6 in front at the break.

Wigan needed to score first in the second half to avoid a mountainous task and they took just seven minutes as Dom Manfredi rose superbly to collect a kick ahead of Ryan Hall and touch down for 16-10 with Bowen converting for 16-12. The Wigan fullback went in for a try himself just two minutes later and converted to put the Warriors narrowly ahead at 18-16 with a penalty goal on 62 minutes extending the advantage to four at 20-16.

The lead was a short one in time as well as points as went back in front after a try from Josh Walters who took advantage of a high kick to touch down for 20-20 with Sinfield converting successfully for 22-20 which despite a lot of pushing from Wigan to try and overturn the lead was how it ended. The result confirmed a treble of trophies for the Rhinos as they became the first to achieve such a feat  since St Helens in 2006 and in doing so ensured Wigan fell to back-to-back Grand Final defeats.

Friday, 9 October 2015

Super League Play Offs/Million Pound Game Thoughts

Ahead of the final game of the 2015 season, thoughts go back to last weekend's trio of games which saw four sides battle to reach the Super League Grand Final and two others face-off in a battle to claim the final place in the 2016 Super League.

Wonderful Warriors Win Guts Giants

Thursday night's action came from the DW Stadium as Wigan Warriors hosted Huddersfield Giants with the Warriors aiming to reach a third consecutive Grand Final while the Giants looked to reach the event for the first time.

Wigan started superbly as Ben Flower crossed for the opening try inside six minutes with Matt Bowen converting for a 6-0 lead which was extended just over ten minutes later by a penalty from the Warriors' fullback for 8-0. John Bateman endured the hosts would take a double figured lead into the interval as he crossed for a 36th minute try but the Giants got on the board in the final seconds via a Danny Brough penalty for 12-12.

Wigan's charge continued as Dom Manfredi crossed ahead of a second from Bateman with Bowen converting both for a huge 24-2 lead after only 55 minutes before Bowen added a penalty for 26-2 just after the hour mark. Brett Ferres gave the Giants some hope as he crossed on 67 minutes with Brough converting for 26-8 but it was to be just a consolation for the visitors as Tony Clubb sealed the win in the final seconds with Bowen's conversion completing a 32-8 triumph to send the Warriors to a fourth Grand Final in six seasons.

Rhinos Rise Stuns Saints 

Friday night's action came from the Headingley Carnegie Stadium as League Leaders Shield winners Leeds Rhinos hosted Super League champions St Helens with the hosts looking to move to just one win away from a unique treble while the Saints looked to continue their pursuit to retain their title.

St Helens struck first as James Roby shimmied through the defence to score the opening try inside six minutes with Luke Walsh converting for 6-0. Walsh extended the lead to eight points with a penalty on 17 minutes but the Rhinos found back superbly as Zak Hardaker crossed on 20 minutes with Kevin Sinfield converting for 8-6 before levelling the score with a penalty eight minutes later. 

Walsh ensured the Saints would lead into the interval as he swept over a last-gaps drop goal for 9-8 and his effort was added to just before the hour mark as Mark Percival crossed to extend the lead to 13-8 but a missed conversion attempt from Walsh left just a four point gap.

However, Leeds fought back with 11 minutes remaining as Ryan Hall touched down and with Sinfield converting, they went into a narrow 14-13 lead. St Helens rallied late on to regain the lead and claim the win but in their haste they lost the ball near their own line and Kallum Watkins collected and raced over for a try. Sinfield converted and at 20-13, the Rhinos secured a first Grand Final since 2012 and just 80 minutes away from completing a treble of trophies.

A superb meeting awaits at Old Trafford tomorrow between Wigan and Leeds in what is the first at the 'Theatre of Dreams' since the inaugural Premiership final back in 1998 which the Warriors won 10-4. The Rhinos in bidding to secure a treble of trophies will have to break their poor record against Wigan in finals having never won a single meeting.

Winning Wildcats Deny Battling Bulls

After a superb run in the Super 8s, Bradford Bulls made the trip to Wakefield Wildcats on Saturday to face-off in the Million Pound Game with the winner claiming the final place in next season's Super League.

The Wildcats struck first as Danny Kirmond crossed for the opening try on 16 minutes which Joe Arundel converted for 6-0 but the Bulls did superbly to keep the score to just that while going close to scoring themselves in a tight first half.

Anthony Mullally extended the lead just four minutes after the restart with Jordan Tansey converting for 12-0 but the Bulls got on the board just six minutes later as Danny Williams crossed and Danny Addy converted for 12-6 before a superb effort on 54 minutes saw Matty Blythe close the gap to 12-10.

Wakefield regained their six point advantage on the hour as Danny Washbrook and with Tansey converting, the Bulls were left needing to score twice to draw level and just five minutes later they boosted their task with an effort from Adrian Purtell with Addy's conversion making it 18-16.

Bradford were gifted a great chance to level when Addy chose to kick at goal from a penalty but his attempt narrowly missed the target and in the final seconds, Wakefield secured the win as Scott Moore raced over and Tansey converted for 24-16. So the Wildcats survive in the top flight after a woeful season overall but the Bulls proved despite defeat that promotion is not as far away as many believed when the new RL era was conceived.