One hundred and sixty-six games over 13,280 minutes had led us to Old Trafford and the 2023 Super League Grand Final between the top two sides in the competition as the Wigan Warriors took on the Catalans Dragons for the biggest prize in the domestic game.
Wigan were the slight favourites with the bookies to take the spoils despite the Dragons having been victorious on two out of the three meetings so far this season.
He stage was set for a fairytale final game of an illustrious career for Sam Tomkins should he be able to lead his Dragons side to victory over the side who he debuted for fifteen years ago and with whom he tasted so much success, including three Grand Final victories.
It was a very even opening ten minutes but on twelve minutes Paul Seguier picked up a head injury with an accidental stud to head contact in the tackle, the Dragons second rower helped from the field.
It was end-to-end action, but final kicks were poor and too easily diffused with no advantage gained for the attacking sides.
On nineteen a potential turning point with Adam Keighran sin-binned for a tip tackle on Kai Pearce-Paul. From the penalty Liam Farrell was held up just short of the line by Mitchell Pearce and on the last tackle of the set, the cross-field kick was diffused by Tom Johnstone.
A high tackle from Manu Ma’u on twenty-four heralded the opening points of the game as Harry Smith slotted the ball between the uprights from twenty metres out to give his side a 2-0 lead with twenty-five minutes on the clock.
Ethan Havard limped off the field on twenty-eight after breaking down in his comeback game after missing the last eleven for Wigan as Keighran returned with his side only conceding the two points during his absence.
The Dragons were awarded a scrum on thirty-five after a Wigan knock-on, and on the first set they were awarded a penalty for an offside, Keighran sneaking the ball inside the far post to level the scores as half-time beckoned.
A brilliant minute from Tom Johnstone as the clock headed for forty kept his side on level terms, first tackling Jai Field and then tidying up a kick through to prevent Wigan from scoring.
Smith attempted a long-range field goal on the half time hooter, but his kick was short of the posts and the sides went in level.
Three minutes after the restart Tom Davies was sin-binned for holding Liam Marshall back off the ball, the Dragons with another ten minutes to defend with a man down.
On fifty-one the Warriors broke the deadlock, Marshall taking the final pass after Liam Farrell went through the Dragons lines in a move which saw then go in from forty metres with great build up. The Dragons had paid a price for the sin-binning, Smith hit the target to put his side six points clear.
A high tackle from Keighran gifted Wigan another kickable penalty on sixty-two and Smith put the balls through the uprights for an eight-point lead.
The Wigan defence was awesome, the Dragons unable to break the line or trouble their opponents with any kicks.
Wigan ground out the win against a Dragons side who came to defend and hope that they might get a breakthrough, and secure a shock win. But the Wigan defence was too good and with Wigan scoring the majority of their points when their opposition were down to twelve men, their win can be credited to Dragons indiscipline. The best side on the night, and arguably the best side over the season, picked up the trophy and win their sixth title.
Wigan Warriors: Field, Miski, King, Wardle, Marshall (T), French, Marshall, Smith (3G), Dupree, O’Neill, Ellis, Pearce-Paul, Farrell, Smithies. Subs: Powell, Isa, Havard, Mago. 18th Man: Shorrocks.
Catalans Dragons: Tomkins, Davies (SB on 43), Ikuvalu, Keighran (G, SB on 19), Johnstone, May, Pearce, McMeeken, McIlorum, Taukeiaho, Whitley, Seguier, Garcia. Subs: Bousquet, Mourgue, Navarette, Ma’u. 18th Man: Romano.
Score Progression: (SB), 2-0, 2-2 : HT: (SB), 6-2, 8-2, 10-2 :FT.
Lead Exchanges: Wigan – Square – Wigan.
Referee: Liam Moore.