The five reasons behind Wigan Warriors’ Grand Final win and the start of a new dynasty

Ross Heppenstall
Wigan Warriors captain Liam Farrell lifts Super League trophy Alamy

Winning their third trophy in only Matt Peet’s second season in charge will not be enough for Wigan Warriors.

They want more and a first Grand Final win since 2018 has encouraged hopes of further silverware and maybe even another period of sustained dominance.

Much has changed in rugby league since those halcyon days when the Cherry and Whites won the Challenge Cup eight years in a row and seven straight league titles between 1989-90 and 1995-96.

Back then Maurice Lindsay set up a full-time, professional squad in a game played by part-timers and built a team containing of some of the greatest British and international talent in rugby history.

Shaun Edwards, Martin Offiah, Denis Betts and Dean Bell were the biggest names in the 13-a-side code and the Central Park trophy cabinet was full to bursting.

Rugby league is now a salary cap sport, of course, which has made it far more of a level playing field and such dynasties far less likely.

But as their great rivals St Helens showed by winning a record four successive Grand Finals, homegrown talent and ambitious, wise recruitment and leadership can lead to serial success.

Academy stars shine on the biggest of stages

Liam Marshall, Wigan Warriors, Grand Final 2023 Liam Marshall celebrates his try as Wigan Warriors win the 2023 Grand Final – Alamy

Wigan, under the thoughtful guidance of Peet, will hope that their tense but deserved win over Catalans Dragons can lead to the kind of sustained glory they so famously enjoyed 30 years ago.

The three most successful clubs of the Super League – Wigan, Saints and Leeds Rhinos – have won trophies with a homegrown heart and the Warriors’ academy continues to harvest endless talent.

It is worth noting that in the two major finals that they have contested under Peet – last year’s Challenge Cup final against Huddersfield Giants and yesterday’s win over Catalans – were both decided by Liam Marshall tries.

That Marshall grew up in Wigan supporting his hometown team and was nurtured in their youth ranks before making the grade at senior level is testament to the club’s youth development system.

A youth development system that Peet has played a major role in.

Hometown heroes embedded in culture of the club

Consider too the contribution of long-serving captain Liam Farrell, another man who if you cut him in two bleeds Cherry and White, and the likes of Harry Smith who had a superb game against the Dragons.

There are ‘Wigan men’ at the heart of the club; Peet as head coach, chief executive Kris Radlinski, Shaun Wane in the background in an overseeing part-time role and legendary ex-captain Sean O’Loughlin as assistant coach.

Even New Zealander Thomas Leuluai – another of Peet’s trusted lieutenants on the coaching staff – is essentially an adopted Wiganer.

Ian Lenagan bowing out a winner as club prepare for new owner

But it goes deeper. Not only do Wigan have a formidable coaching staff, they will soon have a billionaire owner in Mike Danson.

A local lad made good, Danson will seize 100% ownership of the Cherry and Whites from current owner Ian Lenagan on December 1.

Lenagan has presided over a hugely successful era during his 16 years in charge and bowing out as a title winner was an apt tribute to his trophy-laden tenure.

Lenagan is now passing on the baton to Danson, who also owns Wigan Athletic, with relations between the clubs stronger than ever.

What should also not be overlooked is Kris Radlinski’s role in Wigan’s success.

The legendary former full-back was made chief executive at the start of 2023 after nine highly successful years as executive director.

Highly-respected within the game, Radlinski is responsible for the day-to-day running of the club which should ensure a smooth transition as the change of ownership unfolds.

Matt Peet building a ‘frightening’ squad for a new dynasty

Matt Peet Wigan Warriors Alamy Wigan coach Matt Peet celebrates their Grand Final victory with the fans – Alamy

The Warriors already look well placed to defend their title next year.

Toby King is heading back to Warrington after his successful season-long loan and Kai Pearce-Paul is off to Newcastle Knights in the NRL.

But Adam Keighran is a ready-made replacement for King and the multi-talented Sam Walters can fill Pearce-Paul’s sizeable boots.

Add in the acquisition of Kruise Leeming, Tiaki Chan and Luke Thompson and there can be no denying that Peet will have a stronger squad at his disposal next term.

“I believe with all their young players that Wigan are on the cusp of the next dynasty,” Sky Sports pundit Barrie McDermott told Love Rugby League earlier this week.

Brian Carney added: “What I will say is that, at the moment, the squad that Wigan have assembled for 2024 is looking frightening.

“The ambition of the new owner is thrilling for Wigan fans and unnerving for some opposition clubs. However, money doesn’t buy you success all the time.”

That much is true, but only a fool would turn his back on Wigan Warriors right now.

The burning ambition for success

There is too much energy, and too much drive, from top to bottom at a club who do things the right way.

Much of that comes from Peet, who for the past two years has invited the media to spend a day with his squad at their Robin Park training base during pre-season.

“I want to work with you guys,” he said at the start of a day which saw journalists interviewing players, having lunch with them, watching training and observing team meetings.

Peet sees the bigger picture and, at the end of his post-match press conference last night, he thanked the media for their coverage during the season. Another touch of class.

Quite how good Wigan can go on to be under Peet remains to be seen, but that they are a major force again is undeniable.

A Challenge Cup, a League Leaders’ Shield and Super League title in two seasons is proof enough.

As for Catalans, they must regroup during the winter and that will be no easy task after the devastation of a Grand Final defeat.

Eight or nine players are leaving, including key men such as Sam Tomkins, Mitchell Pearce, Tyrone May and Matt Whitley, and it felt like another opportunity missed after losing narrowly to Saints in the 2021 title decider.

Steve McNamara could not hide his pain last night, but insisted he has the stomach for the fight and to go again in 2024 with a much-changed squad.

World Club Challenge on the horizon

For Wigan, though, the future is bright, with a World Club Challenge against NRL kings Penrith Panthers on the horizon early next year.

And with it the chance for Peet to complete a clean sweep of every available trophy since taking charge.

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