Sport has the most magnificent capacity to carry us away from all our worries and problems like nothing else and never have we been more grateful for that than this year. But even the most creative writers couldn’t have pieced that ending back into a Super League season that didn’t even seem to end at some point.
It was, to put it bluntly, the Agüero moment of the rugby league. It wasn’t until 2020, the craziest and most unpredictable of years, that a grand finale could have been decided in this way. This obviously won’t be any consolation for the Wigan Warriors, who will likely still be in shock for the days to come when they try to figure out how the Super League title slipped out of their hands.
It may be cruel that Bevan French, Wigan’s best player of all season, was the man who paused for a split second and allowed Jack Welsby to hit the ground to score the try winner after the full-time hooter sounded, seconds after Tommy Makinson fell. goal hit the posts.
But a sports drama like this doesn’t care for compassionate or fairytale finishes.
“To chase things and compete on every game, these are things we talk about all the time, playing until the last minute,” revealed winning St Helens coach Kristian Woolf. “But to do that and get a result like this… exceptional. I don’t know if you’ll see a better soccer game than this.
For 65 minutes you felt the moment that finally secured back-to-back Super League titles for St Helens was about to come. Neither rugby league’s two big rivals were ready to give up an inch in what had already become one of the grand finals even before chaos began to unfold in the dying moments.
In a season where the very existence of the rugby league was at stake, perhaps it will always be some fine margins that will determine the champions of a year that no one will ever forget. It looked like Jake Bibby’s try, the first in the Finals as he snuck into the corner 15 minutes from time, was going to be that moment.
How foolish to think that was going to be the case, and that this St Helens side, the first team to defend the title in almost a decade, would disappear. After scoring the only points in the first half since the start, the only time in history that the Grand Final was without a try at the break, Lachlan Coote was there nine minutes later to tie the game at 4 -4.
But the drama had only just begun. The frantic final minutes saw St Helens cut off a wide drop goal attempt, before Zak Hardaker – who had hit the post earlier in Bibby’s try-to-convert – just failed with a penalty attempt that would, in all likelihood, have secured the title for Wigan. He was barely wide on that night of fine margins.
Before all that – and before the craziness of the last seconds – both sides had played their part in a grand finale that you just couldn’t take your eyes off of.
There was drama, tension, physique and just an act of scoring, when Coote’s penalty brought the score to 2-0 at halftime after a Warriors error.
For nearly half an hour of gripping and relentless rugby after half-time, it seemed like that might actually be enough. But when Bibby scored, St Helens needed something else. Something the Warriors, whose defensive line never seemed to be breached all night, couldn’t handle. How it happened, however, defies belief.
“It was surreal,” said depressed Wigan coach Adrian Lam. “Even now I want to rewind it… it’s so weird. We are sorry. We are devastated.
Makinson’s goal as the hooter rang bounced off the post. The French, so often cool and composed, seemed certain to take the ball and send us into overtime: but he was blinking at the most crucial moment.
The ball bounced away from him and teenage center Welsby responded the fastest. There was not even time to take the conversion. But it didn’t matter.
And when the celebrations kicked in and the chaos started to sink, the fact that it all meant victory in the last game of James Graham’s career, but also defeat in the final for Sean O’Loughlin.
Yet the St Helens players, minutes after winning the title, still found time to form an honor guard for O’Loughlin as he left the field one final time. Sport, eh? The sanctuary of salvation for many of us throughout this eventful year. Hopefully in a constantly changing world this is one thing that never changes.
Wigan Français; Bibby, Hardaker, Gildart, Burgess; Leuluai, Hastings; Bullock, Powell, Singleton, Isa, Farrell, Partington. Exchange Clubb, Greenwood, O’Loughlin, Smithies.Try Bibby
St Helens Coote; Makinson, Naiqama, Welsby, Grace; Lomax, Fages; Walmsley, Roby, Graham, Taia, Bentley, Knowles. Exchange Peyroux, McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Lees, Amor. Try Welsby Buts Coote 2
Arbitrator C Kendall.