It was a day which we thought might never come during the darkest days of the coronavirus pandemic, the 2020 Grand Final from the unfamiliar venue for the showpiece event at the KCOM Stadium in Hull. It was the defending champions against the minor premiers, the top two sides in the regular competition, and most would argue the most fitting two sides to end the season.
Saints were unchanged from the side which demolished the Catalans Dragons last weekend to make it to the Grand Final. Wigan had Sam Powell back in their starting line-up, Ben Flower missing out, as the Warriors looked to emulate their win from a month ago, the last time that the two sides met.
There have only been three Grand Finals where one of these two sides didn’t feature although they have only met on three occasions in the season finale, Saints winning on two of the three previous match-ups.
Wigan were very slight favourites with the bookies, St Helens getting a two-point start on the coupon but what we were all hoping for was a hard, fast and close Grand Final to wave goodbye to an extended 2020 season.
The opening encounters delivered the pre-match promised goods. The opening minutes were all Saints but as Wigan settled into their game, they started to make ground and take the game to Saints but the two defences were on top as the attacks became increasingly frustrated.
On twenty-seven it seemed inevitable that Zak Hardaker would open the scoring as he spun out of a tackle to push over the line on the last tackle but a herculean effort from the Saints defence held him up over the line and the referee called handover.
Wigan’s defence was sensational as they kept the normally free-scoring Saints at bay.
A terrible error from Lachlan Coote on thirty-five, stretching forward to take a high kick and spilling the ball forward, should have been the ideal opening for Wigan to snatch a try but the ball went to ground on the first play and Saints regained possession.
A shoulder charge on Coote by Morgan Smithies on thirty-nine gifted Saints a penalty ten out from the Wigan sticks and after the hooter sounded Coote kicked the ball between the uprights for the first, and last, points of the half. Saints taking a 2-0 lead into the sheds.
No quarter had been asked, and none given, in a brutal forty minutes of top-class rugby league.
Both sides forced goal-line drop outs within the opening ten minutes of the second half and on receiving the second Saints went close to a first try of the game as Zeb Taia collected a James Roby grubber to ground but after the referee sent the decision up as a ‘NO TRY’, the video referee agreed with the on-field decision for Taia being offside.
On the next set James Roby was stopped just short of the line by a Wigan defence giving one hundred percent.
The deadlock was finally broken on sixty-five with fast hands seeing the ball move from the centre of the field to the wing and into the hands of Jake Bibby to dive over in the corner, Hastings, Leuluai and Bevan French all having a hand in the move. Zak Hardaker hit the upright with his touchline conversion, Wigan two points ahead.
A high tackle from Jackson Hastings on Theo Fages gifted Coote a second penalty of the night to level the scores at 4-4 with just over seven minutes remaining in the game.
An awful attempt at a drop goal on seventy-seven from Theo Fages barely made the Wigan line and when a minute later Theo Fages was penalised for being offside just inside his own half Hardaker went for goal but dropped his kick just short of the crossbar.
As the full-time hooter sounded Tommy Makinson attempted a forty metre drop goal which hit the upright before bouncing into the Wigan goal area where Bevan French was unable to take the bouncing ball, and a chasing Jack Welsby took possession and got the ball on the ground a split second before his foot went dead in goal. The decision went to the video referee who agreed with the on-field referee and awarded the try. Saints opted not to kick the goal, an 8-4 win for the back-to-back Champions!
This was an outstanding game between two totally dedicated sides which delivered probably the game of the season in the biggest game of the year. Saints lift the trophy again, James Roby winning the Harry Sunderland Trophy, and James Graham winning the biggest game in the last outing of his career.
Thanks to the players from eleven clubs who have given everything that they had to give in the craziest of seasons, and congratulations to St Helens on being the 2020 Grand Final Winners.
Saints: Coote (2G), Grace, Welsby (T), Naiqama, Makinson, Lomax, Fages, Walmsley, Roby, Graham, Taia, Bentley, Knowles. Subs: Peyroux, McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Lees, Amor.
Wigan Warriors: French, Burgess J, Gildart, Hardaker, Bibby (T), Hastings, Leuluai, Bullock, Powell, Singleton, Farrell, Isa, Partington. Subs: Clubb, Greenwood, O’Loughlin, Smithies.
Referee: Chris Kendall.
Half Time: 2-0.
Full Time: 8-4.
Venue: KCOM Stadium, Hull.