The Top 3 Super League Grand Finals
Castleford Tigers and Leeds Rhinos will take centre stage on Saturday evening at Old Trafford in the biggest match of the Super League calendar this Saturday.
Both teams have the opportunity to make their own piece of history with Castleford searching for their first ever Super League title whilst the Rhinos are looking to seal the game’s most important trophy for a record eighth time. With the Tigers and Leeds finishing the domestic championship in first and second place respectively, the final has the makings to be one of the best in recent history. With this in mind, let’s reflect on the best Super League Grand Finals since its induction in 1998.
St Helens v Bradford Bulls, 19 October 2002
Old Trafford was the venue to one of the most talked about finals in Super League history. Both St Helens and Bradford Bulls finished the season with 46 points on the board but it was the Saints who secured the league shield with a slightly better points difference. More than 61,000 supporters were in attendance to witness a match which is regarded to be the best Super League Grand Final of all time.
Brian Noble’s Bradford side were the quickest out of the blocks when centre Scott Naylor touched down in the opening three minutes. Paul Deacon added two more points from a penalty before the Saints responded as Mike Bennett was rightfully awarded a try thanks to the video referee. St Helens took the lead before the interval as hooker Kieran Cunningham pounced on an error from Bradford’s Brandon Costin and set up Sean Long who scored and converted the try. Similar to the first-half, the Bulls started strong and Robbie Paul finished off a wonderful team move to regain the lead. Just minutes later, Bradford were in cruise control as Michael Withers crossed the line to increase the lead following another flowing team effort. Deacon missed the conversion which proved to be costly as Martin Gleeson notched up a try whilst Long later converted a penalty to make the scoreline 18-18.
With minutes remaining, both sides produced drop goal attempts but they were all wide of the mark. But, with 50 seconds left on the clock, Long converted the all-important drop-goal to edge the Saints ahead by a single point. However, the controversy was far from over as Saints skipper Chris Joint was extremely fortunate not to concede a penalty for an involuntary tackle in the dying seconds after falling to the ground without a single Bulls players near him. The referee missed the incident and Ian Millward’s Saints side secured a memorable 19-18 victory and left with the ultimate prize.
Warrington Wolves v Wigan Warriors, 5 October 2013
After falling short against Leeds the previous year, Tony Smith’s Warrington Wolves returned to Old Trafford in an attempt to lift the first Super League title in the club’s history. Wigan Warriors were the team standing in their way and Sean Wade’s men were looking to clinch a domestic double after beating Hull City in the Challenge Cup final. Warrington and Wolves finished in second and fourth place respectively in the table but they managed to overcome Leeds and Huddersfield Town in the semi-finals to reach the Grand Final that year.
The Warriors were the first to get themselves on the scoresheet as the outgoing Pat Richards converted an early penalty after ten minutes. However, the Wolves took command of the final and managed to score three tries in six sensational minutes with Joel Monaghan, Simon Grix and Ben Westwood all crossing the line and seemingly putting the game beyond Wigan. Following a blistering start, Warrington endured a massive blow before the interval as Monaghan had to be stretched off after a collision with Richards and the Warriors took advantage with Darrell Goulding scoring a crucial try.
Wigan continued to pile on the pressure in the second-half and hooker Michael Mcllorum produced a fine solo effort to close the gap on the Wolves. Moments later, the Warriors produced a fantastic team move on the final tackle which saw winger Josh Charnley gather a classy Goulding kick to edge Wigan in front on the night. Man of the match Blake Green added another try for the Warriors before Richards put the icing on the cake and rounded off the scoring to complete a remarkable comeback with Wigan beating Warrington 30-16. The double was complete.
Wigan Warriors v Leeds Rhinos, 10 October 2015
At the end of the 2014-15 campaign, Sean Wade’s Wigan Warriors had managed to reach Old Trafford for the third consecutive season but they were looking to put things right after losing to bitter rivals St Helens in the previous final. Leeds Rhinos were competing in the final for the first time since 2012 and coach Brian McDermott was looking to lift his third Super League title as head coach of the Yorkshire club. The Rhinos finished the table at the top of the charts with Wigan in third position just two points behind them. Leeds and the Warriors beat the Saints and Huddersfield Town respectively in the semi-finals and more than 73,000 people were present in the famous Manchester ground - the highest crowd to date to watch a Super League Grand Final.
Wigan produced an excellent start and scored within the first four minutes thanks to a fantastic breakaway try from Joe Burgess. It didn’t take long for the league leaders to reply and Rhinos legend Danny McGuire crossed the line just two minutes the Warriors had opened the scoring. Leeds centre Joel Moon was awarded a try from the video referee after some great work from teammate Zak Hardaker to put the Rhinos ahead. McDermott’s side then notched up a moment fit for the occasion, producing some wonderful passes in a free-flowing move which saw Mcguire touch down to get his second of the evening just before the break. Wigan responded just seconds into the second-half as winger Dominic Manfredi brilliantly outmuscled Leeds talisman Ryan Hall to get his side back into the contest.
The Warriors took the lead shortly after as fullback Matthew Bowen produced a moment of individual class, skipping through a number of challenges to score under the sticks to put Wigan back into the driving seat. However, the Rhinos refused to buckle and they managed to score the match-winning try through 20-year-old Josh Walters with twenty minutes to go to seal a stunning 22-20 victory at Old Trafford.