Five Things: Terrific trebles, baby Bowen and a Grand Finale

Neil Barraclough

1. Grand finale

A sellout and a spectacle befitting the biggest game of the year. The best grand final in Super League’s history? Many are claiming it as that and it’s hard to disagree. This match had about everything – precise playmaking, silky skills, a big crowd, a hint of controversy, frenetic defence, retiring legends and a slice of history broken – as Wigan had not lost to Leeds in 120 years of finals. The Rhinos did it, winning an amazing treble and sending off their troika of greats in some style. But the Warriors made them really work for it, fighting back from a 10-point half-time deficit to make the second half entertaining, absorbing and thrilling. A lovely Dom Manfredi leap and some ‘Mango’ magic had Wigan in front. But this contest wasn’t over.

Super-sub Josh Walters crossed with 16 minutes left to tie the game up. What a moment for the 21-year old playing in his first ever play-off game. And then up stepped Kevin Sinfield – who else? – to knock over the winning conversion. Talk about a fitting end for Sinfield’s rugby league career. Another sub, Larne Patrick, almost sealed it up for Wigan but lost control of the ball with the line beckoning. Sadly Grand Finals can be won and lost by such tiny, miniscule margins. Both teams gave their all with the full 80 minutes, ripping in and not taking a backward step. Leeds may have emerged winners but Wigan deserve credit for their own heroic display. Losing two Grand Finals back-to-back is hard to take. However, 2015 belongs to the Rhinos. A champion team that will live long in the memory.

2. Baby Bowen

Nineteen hours before the grand final and Matt Bowen was at a hospital watching his daughter being born. Not the ideal preparation before a big game, with no sleep, but the full-back will long have a tale to tell about this particular Grand Final. As he told the media after the game the baby arrived a week early: “We wanted to have her before the Grand Final and luckily enough we had midwives up to try and induce here. They did. They were Wigan supporters.” Now that is what you call loyal Warriors fans.

Bowen may have been playing on emotion but despite all his talent and experience, he couldn’t get the result he craved. This was the Aussie’s third grand final and his third loss. Some never want it to the big dance, some get there but never take out the ultimate prize. Sport can be cruel at times. But Bowen signed off his wonderful 300-plus game career in style regardless, with a crafty try where he jinked and danced past four defenders. But they were would no fairytale finish for the veteran, for local Wigan junior Joe Burgess who is off to the Roosters, or the likes of other departees such as Larne Patrick. That honour went to Sinfield, Peacock and Leuluai, who between the three of them boast some trophy cabinet.

3. Fighting fans

Ugly scenes at Sam Platt’s Bar for the Grand Final as video of fans fighting does the rounds on social media. After such an amazing on-field spectacle it’s what the game really doesn’t need, this kind of issue, as the majority of Super League matches are held with no fuss or drama between rival supporters. Rugby league has a family-friendly atmosphere that we need to continue to be fostered and promoted. We don’t want to get to a stage where fans have to be separated and isolated from one another, or where alcohol is banned, or where parents are afraid to take their kids.

We’ve had small incidents at Magic Weekend this year and at the Challenge Cup semi-finals in 2014. While this sort of behaviour remains rare, thankfully, we have to stay vigilant and ensure it remains that way. There’s no place for the idiot few in the game who want to be hooligans and fight and carry on. Here’s hoping the RFL identifies the perpetrators and comes down hard.

4. England announce

Steve McNamara named his 24-man squad for the New Zealand tour and there were a few surprises. George Burgess, Alex Walmsley, Stevie Ward, Jack Reed, Stefan Ratchford and Joel Tomkins miss out with injury, while seven uncapped players were picked. They are Ben Currie, John Bateman, Joe Burgess, George Williams, Luke Gale, Jermaine McGillvary and Mike Cooper. You can’t really argue with any of those picks, with Gale in tremendous form, McGillvary Super League’s top try-scorer, Cooper excelling in the NRL and Currie and the Wigan trio all having great seasons.

But no Adam Cuthbertson? That’s a big call as the Leeds dynamo was shortlisted for Man of Steel. He’s had an outstanding year and can count himself a little unlucky. Michael Shenton also misses out, with only two specialist centres picked, as Danny McGuire who has been on fire this year. Williams gets the nod in the halves after coming on while Daryl Clark has been dropped after failing to find his form from his Cas days. McNamara has selected a balanced squad with some real strength, particularly in the forwards, to choose from. The Kiwi series kicks off at the KC Stadium on November 1 and it would be great if it was a sell-out.

5. World Clubbing

Leeds’ Grand Final defeat of Wigan means the Rhinos will meet North Queensland in the World Club Series on February 21, while the Warriors will tackle Brisbane again on February 20 and St Helens will face the Roosters on February 19 . After dramatic decider wins for both Leeds and the Cowboys in Super League and the NRL respectively, this clash should be fascinating. Success has been a long time coming for North Queensland, who for years were a struggling club, so they’ll be keen to add some more silverware. Jonathan Thurston vs Danny McGuire, Lachlan Coote vs Zak Hardaker, Matt Scott and James Tamou against Adam Cuthbertson and Brad Singleton, there are some great match-ups.

In the inaugural World Club Series earlier this year Super League was slightly embarrassed when South Sydney smashed St Helens. Saints didn’t really turn up that day, they were below par against a rampant Rabbitohs side. But in the other two matches both Warrington and Wigan acquitted themselves well and both were close games. There is a gap between the NRL and Super League but in a one-off fixture anything can happen. I can see at least one of the Super League clubs getting that elusive win when the Series returns next year.

Follow John Davidson on Twitter @johnnyddavidson