Wigan Warriors 10 Catalans Dragons 2: Changing of guard in Super League as Matt Peet's side emerge from St Helens' shadow

After four years of misery in Super League, Wigan Warriors are emerging from the shadow of fiercest foes St Helens.

Wigan were the sport’s dominant force throughout the late 1980s and 1990s but have seen their near neighbours take over in recent times.

Saints took possession of the Super League trophy following Wigan’s previous Old Trafford victory in 2018 to make it 10 titles in the summer era and leave the Cherry and Whites looking on with envy.

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But St Helens could be about to take a back seat after the Warriors outlasted Catalans Dragons in an Old Trafford slugfest to win a sixth Grand Final.

With strong recruitment already in place for next season, there is a sense the title triumph could spark a spell at the top to match that of their vanquished rivals.

Matt Peet has transformed a team that limped out of the 2021 play-offs into a group of winners.

In just his second season, the 39-year-old has added the Super League trophy to Challenge Cup and League Leaders' Shield glory to complete the set of domestic prizes.

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The Dragons – bidding to become the first French champions – eventually ran out of steam after ending Saints' reign of dominance in a brutal contest only eight days earlier.

Wigan Warriors' Liam Farrell lifts the Super League trophy. (Photo: Ed Sykes/SWpix.com)Wigan Warriors' Liam Farrell lifts the Super League trophy. (Photo: Ed Sykes/SWpix.com)
Wigan Warriors' Liam Farrell lifts the Super League trophy. (Photo: Ed Sykes/SWpix.com)

There was only one yellow card in the previous 25 Grand Finals but Catalans saw Adam Keighran and Tom Davies sin-binned in either half and could not find the energy to mount a comeback as they suffered their second Old Trafford defeat in three years.

Liam Marshall scored the only try of the game in Davies' absence and Wigan demonstrated their defensive resolve to send former favourite Sam Tomkins out as a losing Grand Finalist.

If the achievement wasn't impressive enough, the Warriors played the best part of an hour a man light on the bench after the gamble on Ethan Havard's fitness backfired.

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The England prop was rushed back from a hamstring injury but lasted a matter of minutes before being forced off.

Liam Marshall celebrates scoring the only try of the game. (Photo: Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com)Liam Marshall celebrates scoring the only try of the game. (Photo: Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com)
Liam Marshall celebrates scoring the only try of the game. (Photo: Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com)

A winner's ring will ease the pain as well as the prospect of further success at a club on the up again.

Jake Wardle – discarded by Huddersfield Giants last year – won the Harry Sunderland Trophy after coming up with big plays when Wigan needed them in front of an enthusiastic crowd of 58,137.

There was nothing to separate the top two at the end of the regular season and the Grand Final went to form before Wardle stepped out of the shadows.

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After entering the arena to Reverend and the Makers belting out Heavyweight Champion of the World, the teams slugged it out like two prize fighters.

Adam Keighran is shown a yellow card by referee Liam Moore. (Photo: Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com)Adam Keighran is shown a yellow card by referee Liam Moore. (Photo: Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com)
Adam Keighran is shown a yellow card by referee Liam Moore. (Photo: Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com)

Catalans pushed Wigan back towards the ropes in the early exchanges and found a chink in their armour through Hull KR-bound Tyrone May.

The half-back broke into space after shrugging off Toby King but his kick for the chasing Tom Johnstone didn’t account for Old Trafford's notoriously short in-goal areas.

Catalans' kicking game was one of the few areas for criticism with poor last-tackle plays relieving the pressure on Wigan.

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The momentum swung after Keighran was sent to the sin bin for a spear tackle on Kai Pearce-Paul as the game approached the 20-minute mark.

All of a sudden, the Dragons were in scramble mode in an increasingly fraught contest.

Davies and Mitchell Pearce combined to somehow deny Liam Farrell what appeared to be a certain try before Johnstone came up with a huge catch under pressure to see off that Wigan raid.

Wigan celebrate after hearing the final hooter. (Photo: Ed Sykes/SWpix.com)Wigan celebrate after hearing the final hooter. (Photo: Ed Sykes/SWpix.com)
Wigan celebrate after hearing the final hooter. (Photo: Ed Sykes/SWpix.com)

The former Wakefield Trinity winger gave the Warriors another look at the line when he knocked on coming away from his own 20 and he was punished to the tune of two points.

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Manu Ma'u was penalised for a high shot on Marshall and Harry Smith knocked over the penalty to break the deadlock after 25 tense minutes.

Johnstone dislodged the ball from Jai Field's grasp with a forceful hit to underline his all-round value to the Dragons before Havard limped off in a blow for Wigan.

Catalans minimised the damage in Keighran's absence and were level when the centre stepped up to kick a penalty after the Warriors were caught offside from a scrum.

It took two big plays from Johnstone to ensure it remained 2-2, first halting a threatening break by Field with another fierce tackle before scrambling back towards his wing to claim the ball and take it dead.

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The last act of a fiercely competitive half saw an ambitious drop-goal attempt from Smith fall short on the hooter.

After going in level on the scorecards, Wigan landed a series of blows in a blistering start to the second period.

The Warriors went to the edges quickly and ripped Catalans to shreds to take a decisive grip on the match.

King picked the wrong option after breaking clear down the right but Wigan had the Dragons where they wanted them.

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Davies saw yellow for holding back Marshall following a break by Wardle and Catalans could not hold out despite their best efforts.

Keighran stopped Willie Isa in his tracks with a huge tackle before Johnstone forced Field into a forward pass to Bevan French with the tryline begging.

It felt like a matter of time before Wigan found a way through – and the moment duly arrived on 52 minutes.

Wardle unpicked Catalans' right edge again to surge into space and found Farrell who offloaded to give Marshall an easy finish.

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After a series of fine last-ditch efforts, the Dragons' luck had finally run out.

Smith added the extras to make it 8-2, which already had the look of an insurmountable lead with Catalans out on their feet.

Wigan kept the Dragons at arm's length in the final half an hour and made sure of the win when Smith knocked over another penalty after Keighran caught Tyler Dupree with a high shot.

As the Warriors celebrated a deserved triumph on the final hooter, Tomkins sunk to the floor and was consoled by old friend Farrell.

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The former England captain didn’t get his fairytale ending in his final game but there was no shame in defeat at the end of a titanic tussle.

Wigan Warriors: Field, Miski, King, Wardle, Marshall, French, Smith, Dupree, O'Neill, Ellis, Farrell, Pearce-Paul, Smithies. Substitutes: Powell, Isa, Havard, Mago.

Catalans Dragons: Tomkins, Davies, Ikuvalu, Keighran, Johnstone, May, Pearce, McMeeken, McIlorum, Taukeiaho, Whitley, Seguier, Garcia. Substitutes: Mourgue, Navarrete, Bousquet, Ma'u.

Referee: Liam Moore.

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