After a Titanic battle in the south of France, the Catalans Dragons eliminated the reigning Champions St Helens with a last-minute Sam Tomkins Try which saw the French side into their second Grand Final in three years while ending the four-year domination of the most successful side of the modern era.
The second play-off promised to be equally as dramatic as the Wigan Warriors, sought a return to Old Trafford for the first time since 2020 as they came up against a Hull KR side intent on reaching their first ever Grand Final.
This was the fifth meeting of the season between the two sides with honours shared at two wins each despite Wigan having a massive points aggregate advantage thanks to their 64-6 triumph in the most recent meeting in August and which made them strong favourites with the bookies for the win at the DW Stadium and progress to Old Trafford.
It was the perfect start for the home side when Liam Marshall went in with just over two minutes on the clock. Wigan passed the ball from right to left allowing the winger to carry two tacklers over the line with him and score after crossing the line on his back, the Robins defence mesmerised. Harry Smith adding the conversion for a 6-0 lead.
On six minutes Jai Field knocked a Smith grubber into goal with his knees and then chased the loose ball to ground behind the sticks. The referee initially appeared to rule t out for a knock-on but went the screen and Ben Thaler granted the four points. Smith hit the target again and it was a horror start for the Robins who had enjoyed no possession.
A fifth tackle penalty for lifting gave Wigan more ground and with eleven minutes on the clock Marshall jinked his way to the line through a broken KR defence to get his second of the game after taking a Liam Farrell pass. Smith made it three from three, and it was the most dreadful possible start for KR.
A suicidal offload from KR on their own forty went into Wigan hands on twenty minutes, but a poor final pass from Brad O’Neill squandered another clear Wigan try and Rovers took the ball one hundred metres with Elliot Minchella benefitting from an Abbas Miski error to take a Sam Luckley offload and dive in by the left upright. Brad Schneider added the conversion for 6-18, a lifeline for the visitors who were finally finding their feet after an awful opening twenty.
Hostilities broke out on twenty-nine after Harry Smith dropped a pass and was hit hard by Mikey Lewis. Referee Moore read the riot act but both sides kept their full complement for the remainder of the half which was punctuated by a series of errors from both sides.
Wigan were in control of the game, but there was some hope for KR, especially if they could open the second half scoring.
On forty-two Marshall grabbed his hat-trick try after taking a Bevan French cross field kick just a metre from the line to walk over unopposed and dot the ball down. Smith added the conversion from wide for 24-6.
The win became a certainty on thirty-two when Toby King took the pass from French, after a Kai Pearce-Paul tap back of a Smith cross field kick, to wrongfoot his tackler and slide in by the right corner flag. Smith hit the mark from the touchline, five from five for the opt maligned kicker.
On forty-three the Warriors were in again for 34-6 with Jai Field threading his way through the defence off a Patrick Mago pass to go in from fifteen metres out. Smith was again on target and within two minutes the Warriors were over again, this time it was Miski crossing by the right corner flag off a Field pass. Smith kicked his seventh goal of the game, another from the touchline.
Smith was wide with an attempted drop goal on seventy-three as the game fizzled towards its conclusion.
There was late consolation from Jez Litten on seventy-seven when he took a Jordan Abdull pass to run ten metres and score under the posts. Schneider added the conversion for 12-42.
It will be a Wigan Warriors versus Catalans Dragons final next Saturday teatime as the sides which finished first and second in the regular season make it into the showpiece final. Wigan were deserving of their position after a demolition of their opponents Hull KR without really having to get out of second gear. Hull KR were very disappointing, perhaps a game too far after their great win over Leigh last weekend and despite making the Challenge Cup final and play off semi-finals, they end the season with nothing but memories.
Wigan Warriors: Field (2T), Miski (T), King (T), Wardle, Marshall (3T), French, Smith (7G), Dupree, O’Neill, Ellis, Pearce-Paul, Farrell, Smithies. Subs: Powell, Isa, Mago, Hill. 18th Man: Shorrocks.
Hull KR: Walker, Senior, Opacic, Kenny-Dowall, Hall, Lewis, Schneider (G), Hadley, Parcell, King, Batchelor, Linnett, Minchella (T). Subs: Abdull, Storton, Litten, Luckley. 18th Man: Kennedy.
Score Progression: 4-0, 6-0, 10-0, 12-0, 16-0, 18-0, 18-4, 18-6 : HT: 22-6, 24-6, 28-6, 30-6, 34-6, 36-6, 40-6, 42-6, 42-10, 42-12 :FT.
Lead Exchanges: Wigan.
Referee: Liam Moore.