Wigan 4-8 St Helens: Jack Welsby seals incredible late Grand Final win for St Helens
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The longest season in Super League history concluded in the most dramatic fashion imaginable in its final second.
With the Grand Final clock having ticked over 80 minutes and the two local rivals locked together at 4-4 after a war of attrition, Tommy Makinson’s long-range drop goal struck the right post.
The ball bounced agonisingly away from Wigan full-back Bevan French, and as it trickled towards the dead ball line, Jack Welsby – the youngest player on the field at 19 – pounced to score.
It sparked scenes of unrelenting jubilation among the St Helens players, who were desperate to send retiring hero James Graham out on the perfect high.
It also retained the title they had won last year and equalled Leeds Rhinos’ record of eight Super League trophies, seven of them through Grand Final wins.
But equally, defeat was incredibly cruel on Wigan and their captain Sean O’Loughlin, also playing his final game at the age of 38.
The Warriors had a late chance to win before Welsby’s late intervention, with Zak Hardaker missing a difficult penalty moments before.
Jack Welsby swooped to score a try late on
Hardaker could also reflect on a touchline conversion attempt to Jake Bibby’s try that struck the crossbar.
But history will only remember Welsby’s remarkable try, and yet another indefatigable effort from Saints skipper James Roby, the Harry Sunderland Trophy winner as man of the match.
The drama brought down the curtain on an unparalleled season that started 302 days earlier on a similarly cold January night in Wigan, and has seen Super League players put their bodies through more than ever before despite competition-wide pay-cuts.
At times it has been turbulent and traumatic, with clubs taking matches at 24 hours’ notice and playing as many times as four in the space of 10 days.
But the standard on the field – which has included modified rules – rarely dipped and the intensity reached a crescendo for the season finale.
The two teams ripped into each other in what was a scoreless first 40 minutes, the only points of the opening half – a Lachlan Coote penalty – coming after the hooter had sounded.
Graham started the final match of his career like a man possessed, throwing himself into tackles, chasing kicker Jackson Hastings down routinely, and barking orders – and insults – that were clearly heard inside the empty stadium.
Wigan's Bibby broke the try scoring dealock
(Image: Getty Images)
Saints dominated the opening stages without being able to fashion a clear cut chance, with Wigan enjoying the better of the second quarter.
Coote coolly slotted his penalty right on half-time after he was hit late and high by Wigan sub Morgan Smithies.
Saints again started the second half the stronger, with Zeb Taia – another who now hangs up his boots – having a try disallowed for offside.
Welsby scored the dramatic late try
(Image: Action Images)
But something eventually had to give and it was Bibby that broke the try scoring deadlock after crisp handling.
Hardaker’s conversion bounced off the crossbar before Coote’s second penalty set up that unforgettable finish.