Wigan coach Shaun Wane went out on a high as his side managed to grind out a fifth Super League title – beating Warrington 12-4 in an error-strewn but entertaining Grand Final.
The hero was Warriors winger Dom Manfredi, who scored two of his side’s three tries after being out of the game for more than two years with a career-threatening knee injury.
The Wigan players attempted to play down the sentimental factor in the build-up but the tears at the end of an absorbing contest told a different tale as they joyously celebrated with Wane, who will now go into rugby union with a third Grand Final ring.
There was also a fitting finale for Sam Tomkins, John Bateman and Ryan Sutton but there were tears of a different kind for the Wolves as they slumped to a fourth defeat in as many Grand Finals.
Tyrone Roberts, George King and Bodene Thompson were all on the losing side in their final match for Warrington, who also fell agonisingly short in the Challenge Cup final at Wembley in August.
The drama unfolded on an unseasonably balmy evening in Manchester where it was red-hot out in the middle.
Tempers were frayed throughout the first half and appeared to boil over as the teams went down the tunnel at half-time.
The Rugby Football League says the fracas, which appeared to be sparked by a push from Warrington centre Bryson Goodwin on Wigan full-back Morgan Escare, will be included in the match commissioner’s report and scrutinised on Monday.
In the fiery contest, Tomkins went desperately close to becoming the first man to be sin-binned in a Grand Final as he escaped with warnings from referee Robert Hicks for a trip on Goodwin and using his knees to the head of Daryl Clark.
Yet in between the spats and a flurry of handling errors, watching England head coach Wayne Bennett, who was seen chatting with England rugby union coach Eddie Jones at half-time, will have appreciated the flashes of creative brilliance from three members of his squad chosen to face New Zealand.
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Warrington full-back Stefan Ratchford’s cut-out pass got former Wigan winger Josh Charnley over for the game’s first try while classy centre play from Oliver Gildart worked Manfredi over for an equalising score and Wigan’s other winger Tom Davies touched down an inch-perfect kick from George Williams to put his side in front.
There were also acts of bravery worthy of such a big occasion, notably from Wigan scrum-half Thomas Leuluai, who went off with a head knock six minutes before half-time but returned for the start of the second half, and Manfredi who sustained a nasty facial cut while forcing his opposite number Tom Lineham into the corner flag but was thrust back into the action after undergoing repairs.
Trailing 8-4 at the break, Warrington lost much of their direction in the second half and relied on the cutting thrust of man of the match Ratchford to find a way through the Wigan defence, where he found replacement full-back Escare an immovable last line of defence.
The kicking game of Williams kept the Warriors on the front foot and the Wolves suffered a blow when Roberts was forced off with a knee injury 15 minutes from the end.
Wigan’s best scoring chance in the second half came from a break by Escare, who was stopped in his tracks by the excellent Ratchford, while the Frenchman made a hash of a drop-goal attempt and Tomkins was wide with an ambitious penalty shot from almost halfway.
However, Wane’s nerves were finally settled four minutes from the end when Manfredi took Tomkins’ pass to dive over for his second try and the outgoing coach punched the air in celebration.