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SPIRIT OF 55: A 'Grand' day out
10:01am Monday 8th October 2012 in Wolves news
IT really was a 'Grand' day out.
I saw three lads I went to primary and high school with, two by design and one by good luck.
It was that sort of day, the sort of day for us to come together and celebrate something we had anticipated for so long. We were finally at the Theatre of Dreams, something that only four years ago looked like nothing more than a dream.
I was behind the sticks at the Wire end, being pretty high up gave us a great view of the action and of the rest of the Warrington contingent.
If it hadn’t quite dawned on us that our team were about to contest a Grand Final, I think the loud crack of the fireworks followed by seeing the two teams emerge from the tunnel left us in no doubt what we were about to witness.
I know the occasion created at least one new Wire fan, I’m hoping there were several more.
Warrington started so well, Myler ghosting through a gap after three minutes to give us the dream start.
Then the darkness fell and the vampires started to take over.
For a little while in the first half it looked like Leeds might just run away with it, but once again Wire’s desire to defend kept them in a game.
An eight point deficit was wiped out in the space of a few minutes just before half time.
Briers showed great nerve as well as skill to fling out a fantastic long, left-handed pass to allow Joel Monaghan a stroll over the line.
Another foray on the Leeds line resulted in a penalty just before half time that allowed Hodgson to level the scores.
Then we had the inspiring but almost comical sight of both teams running off the pitch at the same time, each desperate to show to the other that they were more of a team by being the ones that got off the pitch together first.
Wire won that particular battle, but only because they were nearer the tunnel to start with.
So the entire championship campaign came down to the last 40 minutes.
Anybody who still thinks that psychology doesn’t play a big part in the outcome of sporting contests should watch these two teams play at Wembley and then at Old Trafford.
Here Leeds couldn’t feel more comfortable, whereas Wembley is far out of their comfort zone.
Wire, of course, are the other way around.
Warrington far from froze on the big occasion, but there did look to be a little of stage fright about their performance.
From my vantage point it looked as if Leeds edged the battle down the middle, they were doing all the ugly things better, those things that help win the speed of the play-the-ball battle, a battle that so often dictates who will win the war.
Despite this Wire still found a way to be four points in front with around 20 minutes left, after Atkins did exceptionally well to score in the corner.
It was in these last 20 minutes that the difference between the champions and the challengers became most apparent.
A sustained spell of pressure from Leeds brought about the almost inevitable try, Sinfield’s conversion giving them a vital two point lead.
Warrington’s spirit was far from broken and they did get possession of the ball within 10 metres of the Leeds line, with around 10 or 12 minutes left.
The crowd roared as they sensed the potential of a winning score.
From around 200 rows back the players didn’t seem to get my signal to calm down.
Earlier Leeds had showed all the composure needed to grind out a try that put them in the lead.
Just when they needed it most, Wire’s composure deserted them.
For a few crazy moments they played like a bunch of kids in the park who had just heard the call that their tea was ready and they had to come in at the end of the next play.
The ball was knocked forward and the moment to seize the championship and end the 57-year wait had gone.
They needed the sort of composure that Rob Burrow showed in the semi final against Wigan, when in the dying minutes and with his team one point behind, he found himself at acting half back after a crucial error from Wigan.
He could have easily flung out a wild pass or tried to find a way through the retreating Wigan defence for a try, instead he picked up the ball and made a beeline for an offside Wigan player, making him tackle him and give away the penalty that allowed Sinfield to kick Leeds to Old Trafford once again.
Sport at the elite level can be so brutal, Leeds were in no mood to give Wire another chance and they had more than enough experience to show how to win the big game from there.
Last week I likened the Leeds team to Vampires, due to them seemingly always playing better in the dark.
When a vampire bites they either kill you or turn you into a vampire, here’s hoping this Wire team are far from dead.
Of course it was a disappointing way to end the season, we finally thought it was our year and the more you want something the more it hurts when you don’t get it.
One can only imagine how crushed the players feel, after putting their bodies on the line all year and putting their heart and soul into winning the ultimate prize.
Paul Wood’s injury, that is not at all suitable reading for the squeamish, is in a way a fitting injury for this team.
Whatever else you can say about them, this team have shown plenty of balls.
Let us not forget where we were four years ago, could we have imagined then being devastated at the end of a season that has seen a Challenge Cup win, a second place finish in the league and a Grand Final appearance?
Fans of other teams might well be laughing at us for losing in the Grand Final, but they used to just laugh at us in general.
So whilst we might not be the ones laughing last this time, we certainly have plenty of things to smile about.
We are getting nearer!
The last four years have been a heck of a ride, let’s hope the journey is just beginning.
Back in 2009 I wrote an open letter to the players questioning their sense of duty and commitment. In it I wrote: “I am reminded of a quote from Grantland Rice, an old American sportswriter: ‘For when the One Great Scorer comes to write against your name, He marks - not that you won or lost - But how you played the game.’ Fans just want to see you being as passionate about their team as they are.”
I doubt many, if any, of the players read my humble articles, but if any of you do I would like to thank you for living up to the spirit of the letter and that quote in particular.
Take a few weeks off to recover from the season and take a few moments to congratulate yourself on giving this town a team they can be proud of.
Then keep reminding yourself of another part of that letter, “The fact that you have been born with the required physical attributes to play professional Rugby League, grown up in an area that allowed you to play the game, been spotted by a talent scout and managed to avoid career ending injuries, doesn’t make you better than the fans, it makes you luckier than the fans.”
Thanks for four fantastic seasons fellas but the holy grail is still out there waiting to be grabbed.
You are lucky enough to go in search of it yourself, some of us have to settle for writing about it.
If anybody has been reading these articles over the season I hope you have enjoyed them.
They will be making up the backbone of a book I am writing about this season.
As well as extended match reports, the book will include chapters on how other sporting curses have been broken, the history of rugby league, an alternative look on the stats kept on the game and life as a Wire fan.
It will be a look at those seasons over the last 57 years when it looked like we just might be champions, a look at the merits of a play-off system compared to league leaders being champions, and I revisit that letter I sent back in the dark days of 2009.
Hopefully there will be plenty of humour throughout the book, one thing you pick up being a Wire fan is a sense of humour!
It will definitely be available on kindle soon enough and hopefully I’ll be able to get it in paperback.
Of course the book will be called ‘Spirit of ‘55’ by Rob Watson.