There was just six points between the Wigan Warriors and the Salford Red Devils when the two sides met at the same venue just a fortnight ago, in the opening round of the play-offs. The prize tonight was a trip to Old Trafford next Saturday for the game's flagship event, and a chance at picking up the Super League trophy from the grasp of St Helens.
Adrian Lam juggled his side with Ben Flower and Sean O’Loughlin promoted from the bench to the starting line-up compared to a fortnight ago. Ian Watson’s Salford made just one change from the last game, with Greg Burke being brought into the seventeen.
Everyone, including the bookies, expected Wigan to make their eleventh Grand Final, and their sixth in the last seven years. Salford were seeking their first ever appearance at a stadium just five miles over the River Irwell from their base. Momentum, however, was with the Red Devils.
Salford accepted a second minute invite to kick for goal and Krisnan Inu hit the target froma couple of metres inside the Wigan half.
Willie Isa put a clearing kick out on the full on five minutes and Sean O’Loughlin held down too long in the first tackle gifting Inu his second penalty goal, this one from thirty metres.
A thirteenth minute try from Gil Dudson rocked the Warriors after he took a Tyrone McCarthy pass to roll over the line and ground. Inu added the conversion for a 10-0 lead against a Wigan side who’d not got out of the blocks.
Salford went close on thirty-eight but the Wigan line held firm, but as they worked the ball from their line referee Ben Thaler spotted an offense obstruction and Inu kicked his fourth goal of the night from thirty metres for a stunning 12-0 half time lead. Wigan had simply not been at the races.
Four minutes after the restart Joey Lussick extended the Salford lead with a scoot from dummy half to crash over the line and get the ball on the ground from five metres out. Inu was again accurate with the boot for 18-0, Wigan players were starting to look worried.
A high tackle on Liam Burke on fifty-five resulted in another Inu goal for 20-0, Wigan now needed four scores for the win.
Just after the hour Lee Mossop crashed over the top of the Wigan defence from close to edge Salford into the Grand Final as Wigan capitulated. Inu kicked his seventh goal of the night, from seven attempts, for 26-0. He followed it with an eighth goal three minutes later after Wigan interfered at the play the ball.
There was some consolation for Wigan on seventy-two when Bevan French chased down a Sean O’Loughlin kick through to gather and slide over the line for a four pointer. Zak Hardaker hit the post with his conversion attempt, Wigan 4-28 behind as the final hooter put them out of their misery.
A fantastic performance from Salford saw them demolish the favourites Wigan and get themselves into the showpiece final for the first time. It was the complete performance against a Warriors side who expected to get the win but who were give a lesson in determination and drive. It’s a result which will delight and surprise the neutrals in equal measure and many of them will be hoping for a repeat in a weeks time at Old Trafford.
Ian Watson should be called the alchemist, he’s made something extraordinary from parts that are run of the mill. Who’d now bet against the team with massive momentum going all the way and lifting the trophy for the first time next Saturday?
Warriors: Hardaker, Marshall, Hankinson, Gildart, Burgess, Williams, Leuluai, Flower, Powell, Partington, Isa, Farrell, O’Loughlin. Subs: Byrne, Smithies, French (T), Clubb.
Red Devils: Evalds, Sio, Welham, Bibby, Inu (8G), Lolohea, Hastings, Mossop (T), Tomkins, Dudson (T), Jones, Griffin, McCarthy. Subs: Lussick (T), Walker, Flanagan, Burke.
Referee: Ben Thaler.