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GUARDIAN VERDICT, GRAND FINAL: Warrington Wolves 18 Leeds Rhinos 26
SOME players dropped to their haunches, some bowed their heads, some had glazed fixed glares and some just wanted to hide as they covered faces with their hands.
The majority shed tears and were comforted by teammates and coaches.
Old Trafford is a horrible place to lose, such that it can reduce tough men to display vulnerable raw emotion.
There were tears on the terraces too. Wolves’ season was not supposed to end like this!
And, in brutal truth and by the players’ own admission, it should not have done.
With the first championship for 57 years and a golden double at stake, Wolves did not do what they needed to do on a night when they needed to do it most.
Kick well, chase strong, finish sets neatly, take any chances that come along.
The final 33 minutes will probably haunt them until they feel as though they have redeemed themselves by returning and winning at the Theatre of Dreams and Nightmares.
It was going down the same path as the semi-final win at St Helens when Wolves lost the territory and possession battle in the first half but produced a stinging converted try from Joel Monaghan from a lovely Lee Briers long pass was followed by a Brett Hodgson penalty on the hooter to leave the sides square at 14-14.
And that psychological swipe was doubled four minutes into the second half when Ryan Atkins’ freakish upper body strength got him over the line near the players’ tunnel to light the way for Wolves to go for the jugular and end the champions’ reign.
Their attempts fell flat.
The pass was high and Ratchford was unable to take it in at full stretch.
It was the first of numerous moments as the momentum changed Leeds’ way.
Through a series of bad luck, poor decision making, handling errors and costly penalties, Wolves rarely had possession in Leeds’ half of the field again.
And after spending 12 minutes heroically defending deep inside their own half, most of it on their own try line, Leeds bagged a lead through impressive centre Carl Ablett that they knew how to keep.
The Yorkshiremen had seen it all before during their eight Grand Final experiences, including last year when they trailed 16-8 to St Helens at the 60-minute mark before going on to win 32-16.
In their inspirational leader Kevin Sinfield they have a man who grinds teams down with effective long kicks on the back of punishing runs down the middle channel that are then supported by the team’s life-depends-on-it defence.
It only works if they avoid making mistakes at the same time and Leeds seem to have mastered the art.
The process, together with Wolves’ mistakes under pressure, drained the life out of Tony Smith’s men in the final 20 minutes, as it had done to so many brave opponents in the past.
Under those circumstances Wolves’ defence was mightily strong but it left them short of fuel each time they got the ball in their own hands.
Credit Wolves for hanging on so long but the inevitable winning try finally came in the 71st minute.
A long pass from Danny McGuire left Leeds with two-on-two, Ablett and Ryan Hall against Briers and Joel Monaghan.
England international Ablett, a powerful back rower who can be lethal up against half backs out wide, was a thorn in Briers’ face all night, whether he was exploding into him in the act of kicking or trying to run over the top of him.
Wolves were so stretched that Briers only just got to Ablett in time to aim up but it delayed Monaghan enough to give one of the game’s leading finishers the outside. Hall gleefully accepted the invite.
Sinfield converted from wide out to establish an eight-point cushion and a fifth title in six years.
Maybe next year for Wolves!
Most points Wolves have scored in a Championship final.
Wolves’first Super League Grand Final.
First loss to a Yorkshire team in any cup final since 1960/61, when Wolves also lost to Leeds in the Championship Final.
The 26 points conceded equals the most points conceded by Wolves in a Championship Final, matching 1950/51.
Leeds Rhinos’ eighth Grand Final.
Prop Jamie Peacock was making his 10th Grand Final appearance.
Adrian Morley became the oldest player to appear in a Grand Final, aged 35 and 149 days.
Kevin Sinfield won the Harry Sunderland Trophy for the second time.
Wolves last won the title in 1955.
Micky Higham still needs one try to reach a career century of touch downs. Higham's total of 99 consists of 24 for Leigh (1999-2000), 35 for St Helens (2001-2005), 17 for Wigan (2006-2008), 21 for Warrington (2009-2012), one for England (2008-2010) and one for England under 21s (2001).
Lee Briers still needs two tries for his Wolves 150, having scored 148 in 405 games since 1997. One goal will see Briers also reach the 1,000 mark for his career, 940 for Warrington, 24 for St Helens, 29 for Wales and 6 for Great Britain.
Super League Grand Final
Saturday, October 6, 2012
Wolves: Brett Hodgson; Joel Monaghan, Stefan Ratchford, Ryan Atkins, Chris Riley; Lee Briers, Richie Myler; Chris Hill, Micky Higham, Ben Harrison, Ben Westwood, Trent Waterhouse, Simon Grix. Subs: Adrian Morley, Michael Monaghan, Paul Wood, Mike Cooper.
Rhinos: Zak Hardaker; Ben Jones-Bishop, Kallum Watkins, Carl Ablett, Ryan Hall; Danny McGuire, Kevin Sinfield; Kylie Leuluai, Rob Burrow, Jamie Peacock, Jamie Jones-Buchanan, Brett Delaney, Ryan Bailey. Subs: Ian Kirke, Darrell Griffin, Stevie Ward, Shaun Lunt.
Scoring: Myler try, 4mins, Hodgson conversion, 6-0; Sinfield try, 19mins, Sinfield conversion, 6-6; Sinfield penalty, 25mins, 6-8; Ben Jones-Bishop try, 28mins, Sinfield conversion, 6-14; Joel Monaghan try, 38mins, Hodgson goal, 12-14; Hodgson penalty, 40mins, 14-14; Atkins try, 44mins, 18-14; Ablett try, 59mins, Sinfield goal, 18-20; Ryan Hall try, 71mins, Sinfield goal, 18-26.
Pens: Wolves 6 Rhinos 5
Referee: Richard Silverwood
Top man: Richie Myler