|Gleeson drives over the line to set Wigan on their way to a first Super League since 1998 [GALLO/GETTY]|
Wigan Warriors won their first Rugby League championship since 1998 as the former dominant force of the English game beat fierce rivals St Helens 22-10 in the Super League Grand Final.
The win at Old Trafford, sparked by two early tries by former Saint Martin Gleeson, condemned their local rivals to their fourth consecutive Grand Final defeat.
It is Wigan’s second Super League title since the summertime format replaced the old winter championship, which the team dominated in the 1980s and 90s.
“It’s the best feeling of my life,” Wigan captain Sean O’Loughlin told Sky Sports on the pitch on Saturday.
“We’ve made a fantastic effort this year. We know they can score tries but we’ve backed ourselves all year and we’ve shown that tonight.”
The only downside to this victory for Wigan was that newly-crowned Man of Steel Pat Richards limped off in the first half.
As well as Gleeson’s double, Wigan also saw Darrell Goulding and Sam Tomkins score tries as they made light work of Saints for whom Andrew Dixon and Francis Meli both crossed the Warriors’ line.
Wigan, the League Leaders Shield winners, hit the ground running from the first whistle and were ahead as early as the third minute.
Gleeson crossed for the first of his two first-half tries but Richards, who had a large hand in the try, missed a tough kick.
And Gleeson was at it again 13 minutes later, Paul Deacon giving the crucial outside pass, to allow him to cross under the posts before Richards added the extras with ease.
Deacon was again involved as the Warriors made it 16-0 when the former Bradford scrum-half’s high kick caused panic in the Saints defence, and after the Warriors grabbed the loose ball, Goulding crossed for his 29th try of the season.
But the shellshocked Saints, had two bits of good news before the first half was out.
First a Dixon try reduced the deficit to 16-4 before Richards was forced off with an Achilles injury.
Wigan looked to have started the second half in identical fashion to the first when they thought former New Zealand Warrior Thomas Leuluai had got the ball down after a jinking run, but the video referee awarded Wigan a penalty that they opted to kick.
The Warriors wasted a chance to extend their lead when former Parramatta Eels hooker Mark Riddell – playing his last game for Wigan – missed a relatively easy kick.
St Helens then wasted a golden chance to get themselves back in the game, Jon Wilkin spilling Matt Smith’s pass when he was well-placed.
And the Warriors made them pay for that miss on 53 minutes when Young Player of the Year Tomkins grabbed their fourth try of the game.
Things went from bad to worse for Saints five minutes later when Sia Soliola was penalised for a late tackle and with Richards sidelined Mark Riddell, having missed the conversion following Tomkins’ try, stretched the lead to 22-6.
The Warriors thought they had stretched their lead on the hour mark but Liam Farrell saw his try disallowed for his own obstruction earlier in the move.
Saints pressed to get themselves back in the game but were guilty of a number of handling errors when well placed with former Great Britain hooker and club captain Keiron Cunningham – playing his 496th and last match for the side before retirement – one of the offenders.
St Helens scored a consolation try eight minutes from time when former New Zealand Warriors favourite Meli crossed but it was too little too late as Wigan closed out a thoroughly-deserved win.