Poll: St Helens 14 Wigan 6: Hohaia happy to accept apology from Flower over assault in final

Referee Phil Bentham shows the red card to Wigan Warriors Ben Flower (2nd left).
Referee Phil Bentham shows the red card to Wigan Warriors Ben Flower (2nd left).
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“There’s a lot of people saying he should be prosecuted by the police for what he did. Presumably you wouldn’t want to see that happen? Or would you?”

It was hardly the sort of question Lance Hohaia, who won a World Cup with New Zealand, would ordinarily have expected to have to field deep in the bowels of Old Trafford late on Saturday night after a Grand Final victory he described as good as anything that has happened to him.

Yet, given the brutal, cowardly assault on the St Helens stand-off by Ben Flower that saw the enraged Wigan Warriors prop red-carded after just two minutes, it was not only perfectly legitimate but necessary, too.

If the violent and shocking scenes had occurred anywhere other than on a rugby pitch, the Wales international would certainly be facing criminal charges.

Unfortunately, given this was Super League’s biggest night and the ugly images went viral as quickly as Flower unleashed his two punches, it was carnage more likely to be seen outside a nightclub at 2am.

Granted, Hohaia was no innocent party in the incident; riled by a collision with Flower in backplay when chasing an early kick, he followed through with a forearm off the ball that could have warranted his own dismissal.

Wigan player Flower – who apologised unreservedly yesterday, saying he had no defence and instantly regretted his actions – could therefore cite this as mitigation for the punch he threw in retaliation. But that floored the Kiwi, who looked like he was unconscious when he hit the deck.

To then rain down another punch to the head when Hohaia was lying prone on the ground was callous and unforgivable.

Hohaia, for his part, said he would accept any apology and maintained the authorities did not need to be involved.

The Match Review Panel will, however, convene this morning for their easiest referral yet.

Flower will surely receive an eight-game ban, at least, following the first dismissal in 17 years of Grand Final history.

But there would be no surprise – especially given the occasion’s profile and the fact Gareth Hock is serving that same suspension for a shove on a referee – if it was far greater.

On the police question, Hohaia, 31, said: “Not at all. These things are best left on the field. Sometimes people do silly things they regret in the heat of the moment.

“Of course, I’d accept an apology; I’m not malicious and don’t take these things to heart. I’d have liked to have played a bigger part and am disappointed I couldn’t.

“I wanted to come back on but wasn’t allowed and my wife in the stands was pretty happy. She cares a lot about me. But I’m not going to say I’ve been cheated out of it. Sometimes these things happen in sport. I was foggy after the first half but I’m fine now and remember being involved in the celebrations.

“That’s the main part. And I’ve the ring to say we won.”

Saints, who finished top, certainly did celebrate to end years of heartache – they lost five successive Grand Finals after their previous triumph in 2006 – but they made such hard work of it.

Despite Saints’ numerical advantage, it was the reigning champions who proved more dangerous for long periods, illustrated by the fact 12-man Wigan produced six line breaks to one.

Indeed, Saints did their utmost to encourage their fierce rivals, dropping ball and conceding needless penalties to actually trail 6-2 after new England winger Joe Burgess crossed for his 20th try of the year seconds before the break.

Previously, Wigan’s Matty Smith had traded penalties with Mark Percival and Saints, shorn of half-backs – as they have been for much of the season and even further following Hohaia’s exit – struggled for any creativity.

However, Harry Sunderland Trophy winner James Roby injected some pace to get them going and, after he sent the excellent Sia Soliola crashing through the sleight George Williams in the 54th minute, Percival put them 8-6 ahead. Wigan wasted two clear chances and Smith missed a penalty to level. Instead, when full-back Paul Wellens – forced into half-back duty again – finally found an attacking kick of note, Tommy Makinson leapt highest to score, Percival doing the rest.

It was a perfect way for Nathan Brown, the Australian coach who revitalised Huddersfield Giants when arriving here in 2009, to end his stay in Super League.

But for the “devastated” Flower the torment will go on.

St Helens: Wellens; Makinson, Percival, Jones, Swift; Flanagan, Hohaia; Amor, Roby, Masoe, McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Soliola, Turner. Substitutes: Manu, Walmsley, Richards, Thompson.

Wigan Warriors: Bowen; Charnley, Gelling, Sarginson, Burgess; Green, Smith; Flower, Powell, Crosby, Tomkins, L Farrell, O’Loughlin. Substitutes: Pettybourne, Clubb, Bateman, Williams.

Referee: P Bentham (Warrington).