FOR traditionalists, there is something innately brilliant about defence winning matches and, for that reason, there can be no complaints Wigan Warriors are the new Super League champions.
Shaun Wane’s side are far from the prettiest to watch and they can, at times, be a little irritating with their tactics, to say the least.
But then there is that defensive attitude, dogged determination, will to win, sheer bloody-mindedness – call it what you will – that was illustrated yet again on Saturday night and there has to be an acceptance they deserve everything that comes their way.
Five men seemed to get involved to deny Ryan Atkins in the 54th minute as Wigan, trailing 6-2, managed to force the ‘Dream Team’ centre into a knock-on as he tried to touch down.
It proved a critical moment; in the next set, Liam Farrell, the consistently excellent England international who rarely gets the plaudits of other such second-rows, made the break that provided Oliver Gildart with the try that levelled the game.
It meant Josh Charnley, Wigan’s prolific Sale Sharks-bound winger, signed off with the match-winning try in the 62nd minute, latching onto a grubber from London-raised Dan Sarginson, the makeshift full-back who now heads to Gold Coast Titans.
With that aforementioned defensive fortitude, there was simply no way this gutsy, depleted Wigan side would let things slide and suffer defeat at Old Trafford for a third successive year.
Granted, Warrington – who saw a lead slip to lose the Challenge Cup final to Hull FC six weeks previously – had their chances and the side that finished top butchered at least three chances to draw level.
Veteran Australian Kurt Gidley was particularly poor with his decision-making, most notably when getting caught on the last tackle attempting to cross in the penultimate minute.
That said, even if the 34-year-old stand-off had found a pass, inevitably someone in a Cherry and White jersey would have appeared from somewhere to brutally negate any threat: champion quality abounds in this Wigan team.
“I was sh*ting myself,” was Yorkshireman John Bateman’s succinct response when Wigan’s England second-row was asked what he was feeling when heading into a tense final 10 minutes.
“It’s one of those feelings… you just want to get it done. When we tackled Kurt Gidley on the line, we had one minute left and we just said ‘take 10 seconds to play the ball and we’d have it won.’
“I’d say that Atkins tackle sums us up, though; everyone’s just working for one another. Everyone just wanted it.
“We scored off the back of that, too. Faz broke through and he absolutely killed it as well; he deserved his man-of-the-match award. But to win our last five games and the will to win shown last time we played Warrington (with 12 men)... I just don’t think anyone was going to stop us today.”
Bateman, bought from hometown Bradford Bulls at the end of 2013, has not had the easiest of years given he was suspended by the club for eight weeks in June following a drunken fight with team-mate Lee Mossop after a day at Haydock Races. But he now has a winners’ ring at last, having lost at Old Trafford in each of the last two seasons. Had there been nervousness about that record?
“You have that in the back of your mind but we spoke about it and it’s just another game,” he insisted. “We play the same game week in, week out and that is all we needed to do. It got us the result in the end. We worked hard for each other.”
Sarginson produced a crucial try-saving tackle on Joe Westerman in the second period, too, and, regarding his fellow 23-year-old, Bateman said: “I can’t praise him enough. He doesn’t play full-back much, he’s filled in now and then when Sam (Tomkins) has been injured. But today he was carrying the ball like a forward, two balls a set, and, honest to God, we’ll miss him so much next year. ”
Bateman, whose little girl celebrated her seventh birthday with him yesterday, was at fault for Dec Patton’s first half try as the young Warrington half-back dummied his way over, Gidley’s kick giving a 6-2 interval lead after Wigan’s Matty Smith had opened the scoring with the first of his two penalties.
But too many of their rivals’ stellar stars failed to shine in the second period.
All of which means Warrington still have not lifted a league title since 1955. Coach Tony Smith won a Grand Final during his first season at Leeds Rhinos in 2004, ending a 32-year wait for such glory with the Headingley club.
Banishing Warrington’s hoodoo is taking a little longer – this was their third Old Trafford defeat since the Australian took charge in 2009 – but he says they’ll get one “soon” and you sense they will.
But, for now, Wigan and their ruthless, tireless Warriors, reign supreme.
Warrington Wolves: Ratchford; Lineham, R Evans, Atkins, Russell; Gidley, Patton; Hill, Clark, Sims, Wilde, Hughes, Westerman. Substitutes: T King, G King, Sandow, Bailey.
Wigan Warriors: Sarginson; Charnley, Gelling, Gildart, Tierney; Williams, Smith; Nuuausala, Powell, Flower, Bateman, Farrell, Isa. Substitutes: Tautai, Sutton, Crosby, O’Loughlin.
Referee: R Hicks (Oldham).