The Good, The Bad and the Ugly of Super League: The Semi-Finals
After 30 long rounds we finally have our two grand finalists – Warrington and Wigan. A rerun of the 2016 grand final will take place at Old Trafford next weekend as the Wire take on the Warriors. Warrington booked its spot in the decider with a thrilling win over St Helens. This was a game that had just about everything, a gripping and edgy contest with two late tries to Tom Lineham breaking Saints’ back and sending them into the final. It was exhilarating stuff. Great for the Wolves, but heart-breaking for the Red V who have been the best team all season. Rugby league can be a cruel mistress at times.
Wigan reached the grand final with a gritty, grinding performance against Castleford. This was not a semi-final in the mold of Thursday’s, but a hard-nosed affair of pure desperation. The Warriors did not let the Tigers breathe, squeezing and wrestling every last breath out of them. Hopes were high for the Cas faithful, but again they finish the season with a bad taste in their months. For Wigan and their departing six the fairytale finish remains possible. Don’t bet against Shaun Wane.
Kudos to Jon Wilkin for his emotive interview after the match. Wilkin’s long association with St Helens has ended now, with the veteran back-rower to play elsewhere in 2019. He told Sky: “Sport’s not romantic, it’s black and white. You either perform or you don’t, you’re judged immediately. Sentiment and romance in sport, I don’t know if they exist.” He will be missed.
All of the people on the losing side on both Thursday and Friday night spoke well and with candour to the media. Justin Holbrook was upfront and honest after St Helens’ semi-final, as was Daryl Powell the night after. Credit to them all for fronting up after a difficult time.
Crowds were a big problem this weekend in two of the biggest games of the year. The matches to decide who reaches the grand final only attracted 12,031 at the Totally Wicked Stadium and 13,461 at the DW. Considering each ground holds 18,000 and 25,138 each respectively, this was a disappointing figure that should raise concerns. They need to be looked at why two elimination playoffs didn’t pull bigger gates. Whether it was a question of scheduling, with the Thursday night game proving difficult, or a lack of promotion, is unclear. But nonetheless it is a worry.
Castleford never really fired a shot at the DW Stadium, such was the dominance of Wigan. To go out without scoring a point, without ever really troubling the home team has to hurt. Luke Gale went missing, Jacob Trueman was badly missed and Paul McShane was quiet. How do the Tigers get over their end-of-season jitters in 2019? It is it time to bring in a psychologist, or were they simply out-played? Something for Powell and co to ponder.