Wigan Warriors 4-8 St Helens: Jack Welsby scores last-minute try as Saints retain their Super League crown in dramatic Grand Final finish
- Jack Welsby scored a last-minute try as St Helens won the Grand Final
- The game was heading for golden-point extra time before the dramatic finish
- Video referee Ben Thaler rightly awarded the try despite a lengthy review
The longest rugby league season in history was settled in the very last second in incredible fashion, with St Helens stealing the Grand Final from bitter rivals Wigan at the very death to clinch an 8-4 victory.
The final hooter had sounded to signal that the end-of-season showpiece was going to golden-point extra time for the first time, when Tommy Makinson’s drop-goal attempt hit the post, but that was just the beginning of one of the most incredible climaxes to grace any sporting final.
With Saints’ players struggling to hide their disappointment and their Wigan opponents seemingly preparing for extra-time, full-back Bevan French neglected to retrieve the bouncing ball, allowing Jack Welsby to sneak in from behind him to ground the ball within millimetres of the dead-ball line.
St Helens beat bitter rivals Wigan Warriors in the Grand Final to retain the Super League crown
The longest rugby league season in history was decided by a last-gasp try from Jack Welsby
Even that was not the end of the drama, as the decision to will come to define an extraordinary season was inevitably passed up to the video referee Ben Thaler, showing that football does not have a monopoly on VAR drama.
Thaler made the right call, but seemed to take an age to confirm that Welsby was onside and had touched the ball down, with the body language of the Wiganers slumped on the ground during the interim painful to witness.
When the decision was finally relayed on the big screen the three dozen Saints players and staff in the empty stadium made more noise than this ground will have seen at many Hull City home games with fans in attendance, rightly celebrating a stunning victory that will be remembered as one of the greatest of the 23 Grand Finals to date.
Jack Bibby scored the opening try of the game in the 67th minute to put Wigan 4-2 ahead
The 19-year-old Welsby is unlikely to experience anything to top the feeling of touching the ball down whatever he achieves in the rest of his career, with the youth of the match-winning full-back providing a fitting counterpoint to the bruising battle between up front between the two retirees, James Graham and Sean O’Loughlin.
There had been nothing to split the near neighbours who are separated by just eight miles in the preceding 80 minutes that was dominated by bone-crushing defence and astonishing resilience, which the sport has needed to get through a marathon campaign that began back in January when few outside China had even heard of Covid-19.
At one stage in the first half Wigan were forced to defend for a staggering 17 successive minutes, yet they did not yield until the final minute of the opening 40, when Saints full-back Lachlan Coote converted a penalty to give them a narrow 2-0 lead after the lowest scoring half in Grand Final history.
Despite the freakish nature of the denouement Saints are worthy champions and just about deserved to retain their title, as they had created more chances until Jake Bibby scored the first try of the game in the 67th minute to put Wigan 4-2 ahead, a lead they only held for five minutes. A year ago Bibby was in the Salford side beaten by St Helens in the Grand Final so to come back and avenge that defeat would have been a decent storyline in itself, but the sporting Gods had something more epic in mind.
Saints were worthy champions after creating more chances throughout the game
Having robbed the League Leaders Shield from long-time leaders Saints last month Wigan looked like repeating the heist at that stage, but conceded a needless penalty when Jackson Hastings hit Theo Fages with a high shot, which enabled Lachlan Coote to level the scores at 4-4.
Wigan still had another chance to win it in the last minute, but Zak Hardaker’s long-range penalty failed to reach the target, leaving St Helens to launch one final attack which culminated with Makinson’s drop-goal attempt.
The posts were still shaking when Welsby showed composure belying his years to follow up the ball and provide the finishing touch to a season that seemed never-ending. Even in this most extraordinary of years this climax will take some beating.