Wigan Warriors 29 Hull FC 2: Hull's Grand Final hopes ended by ruthless Wigan
Given Wigan Warriors eventually eased to a 29-2 success in this bruising and often feisty semi-final it is hard to imagine any solitary act being so consequential especially when the incident in question occurred when Hull were 2-0 ahead.
However, so often knock-out games can deviate in an instant and Josh Griffin - one of Hull’s most consistent players over the last two seasons - learned that the hard way last night.
Midway through the first half, his side were ahead against the League Leaders’ courtesy of Marc Sneyd’s penalty and, given the tenacity of their defence and hard running of their pack, looked more than capable of causing another shock after last week’s play-off success at Warrington.
However, having forced Willie Isa into an error 30m from his own line, the Hull centre came in to congratulate his colleagues but sarcastically patted the head of Ollie Partington.
That needless act sparked a melee and and, instead of taking possession to apply further pressure, Hull saw referee Chris Kendall award a penalty against them.
Wigan duly made it count as, moments later, Zak Hardaker forced a drop-out and Oliver Gildart’s swift pass sent Joe Burgess over for the first try of the night.
Five minutes later, some last-tackle ingenuity from young half-back Harry Smith led to Burgess dabbing infield for Smith to add a second try and Hardaker made it 12-2.
Already you could sense it would be enough for Wigan to progress to next Friday’s Grand Final against the winners of tonight’s game between St Helens and Catalans Dragons.
They have become so gnarled and sheer cussed during this campaign that - for all of some early sloppiness - they would not let the opportunity pass them by.
That said, Hull interim coach Andy Last thought it was a "harsh" call on Griffin.
“I struggle with some of the consistency of referring performances," he said.
“Giving a penalty for tapping someone on the head in an emotional semi-final when we saw what went unpunished in a televised live game last week...?
“I thought it was a major, major turning point.
“We’re really disappointed with the result but credit to Wigan.
“They have a great ability to frustrate you and our execution in big moments wasn’t there."
Smith, playing in Sam Powell’s absence, slotted a drop-goal with the last play of the first half and early in the second period Hardaker angled through wonderfully from 30m out to extend it 19-2.
Hull , who hoped to make a first Grand Final since 2006 after sneaking into the extended play-offs in sixth, did not capitulate even when they felt more decisions were going against them.
However, they lost all their precision, Mahe Fonua throwing an awful pass over the head of Sneyd as the scrum-half was prepared to kick downfield.
Even when regular dummy-half Danny Houghton gave Sneyd a perfect pass, Sneyd managed to fumble in the same position.
It was not to be their night.
Nevertheless, as their four-game winning run came to an end, there can be few complaints from Last who will now wait to see if his side’s late surge has helped persuade owner Adam Pearson to give him the job permanently in 2021.
Hull saw Sneyd bomb one chance after Griffin had collected his clever chip forward and then Danny Houghton had an effort ruled out as they kept fighting.
When still 2-0 ahead they had seen Bureta Faraimo have a ‘try’ chalked off, too, for interference in back play.
However, Steve Prescott Man of Steel contender Bevan French came up with the sort of killer pass the Black and Whites so badly lacked to get Jake Bibby over in the right corner and then added one himself.
Super League will be pleased: the prospect of Hull reaching a Grand Final at their own ground - the fixture was switched from Old Trafford before the play-offs was extended from the top-four - would have been embarrassing.
And, more to the point, there is no doubting the class of this Wigan side.
They were ed for the last time at DW Stadium by Sean O’Loughlin, the Warriors and England captain who was given a guard of honour by both sides at the end and will now play the last game of his glittering career in a Grand Final.
Wigan Warriors: French; Bibby, Hardaker, Gildart, J Burgess; Smith, Leuluai; Bullock, Hastings, Singleton, Isa, Farrell, Partington.
Hull FC: Connor; Naulago, Fonua, Griffin, Faraimo; Tuimavave, Sneyd; Taylor, Johnstone, Bowden, Savelio, Ma’u, Cator. Substitutes: Houghton, Fash, Satae, Sao.
Referee: Chris Kendall (Huddersfield)