Wigan coach Shaun Wane expects redemption from Ben Flower as he prepares to return to the scene of his ‘crime’.
The Wales international was sensationally sent off just two minutes into the 2014 Super League Grand Final for punching St Helens half-back Lance Hohaia, the second time as he lay semi-conscious on the ground.
Flower, 27, received a six-month ban from the RFL and was docked half his wages for three months by his club after they found him guilty of gross misconduct for his brutal assault on Hohaia, who retired six months later, citing “recurrent post-match concussion-type symptoms”.
Inconsolable after the match, Flower issued a public apology 24 hours later and, insisting he is a different person, has been a model of good behaviour since making his comeback in April.
“His form has been superb,” Wane said ahead of tonight’s Grand Final clash with Leeds.
“I said to him at the walkabout at Old Trafford ‘this is just another game on a piece of grass, just think of it that way’.
“If I feel I need to have another word before he goes out I will, but Ben is quite strong-willed and he’s not 19. He’s been in the game quite a while now and he knows what he needs to do.
“He knows what job I want from him as a front-rower and he’ll deliver that for me. He’s one of the best front-rowers in the competition and has momentum going into this game. It’s my job to keep him nice and focused and fresh for Saturday.”
Flower addressed his team-mates in the changing room before last week’s semi-final against Huddersfield, pledging to do all he could to help get them back to Old Trafford, and he scored the opening try to put them on their way to a 32-8 victory.
Wigan captain Sean O’Loughlin was happy for Flower to have his say but now believes the talking is over and it is time to deliver.
“Benny’s reaction to what happened last year and the way he’s performed – and his performance last week – is a credit to the way he’s handled it,” said the England captain.
“The way the club handled it was spot on. Benny has had that niggling him all season, now we’re in the final he’s a chance to really put that behind him. We know what kind of bloke Benny is and how disappointed he was, but he’s been giving it all every week.
“He doesn’t need to say anything, the situation was dealt with after the Grand Final and in pre-season.
“I’m sure Benny will think he’s got something to prove but it’s now about the team’s performance and getting that win.”