Warrington Wolves produced a titanic team effort to shock favourites St Helens 18-4 and lift the Challenge Cup.
Steve Price’s side had been significant outsiders pre-match, missing key man Blake Austin and with Saints having dominated Super League all season.
But Price masterminded an outstanding display from his charges, ending a club run of six straight defeats in major finals.
The Wolves had the Lance Todd Trophy winner as man of the match in hooker Daryl Clark, who was superb throughout and scored the game-clinching try in the closing stages.
His team had led 12-0 at the break after tries to sub Joe Philbin and back rower Ben Murdoch-Masila, who was a surprise selection as a starter but had a major early impact.
Saints thought they should have opened the scoring when a Morgan Knowles “try” was not referred to the video ref in the third minute – but Justin Holbrook’s men also made a host of uncharacteristic mistakes themselves.
They threw themselves a lifeline when French international Theo Fages stepped his way over in the 56th minute.
But their afternoon was summed up when Lachlan Coote pushed a regulation conversion wide – and Clark then stepped forward to seal victory for the Wolves.
1. Price’s tactics pay dividends
Much of the build-up to the game was dominated by whether Warrington’s star stand-off Blake Austin would recover from an ankle injury to play – and who would replace him if he didn’t.
The brilliant Australian was forced to watch from the stands and coach Steve Price named back rower Ben Currie at stand-off.
But in reality, full-back Stefan Ratchford played as a half-back when the Wolves had the ball, before retreating in defence.
And the tactic worked, with Ratchford a key figure throughout, marshalling the right side of Warrington’s attack and producing a crucial kicking game alongside Dec Patton.
Price sprung another surprise in starting with giant forward Ben Murdoch-Masila, which also paid off handsomely, the Tongan international scoring one try and saving another in the first half.
After two final defeats last year, Price had clearly learned some lessons and earned his day in the sun – plus an ice shower on the touchline at the final hooter.
2. Relentless Clark a deserving winner
Wolves hooker Daryl Clark had been on the losing side in three Challenge Cup finals before today – and looked determined to make amends from the very first kick-off.
Clark was unstinting in his efforts around dummy half, constantly asking questions of the St Helens defence.
He was also typically industrious in defence, covering the whole field at times, and made a crucial second half break to relieve pressure on his side before coming up with the decisive try.
The former Castleford Tiger was a deserving Lance Todd Trophy winner – and should be wearing a Great Britain shirt at the end of the year on this evidence.
3. Saints commit deadly sins
Mirror columnist Jamie Peacock wrote in his preview that to win the game, Warrington had to make minimal errors and maintain their discipline throughout.
And that was exactly what Steve Price’s side did from the start, keeping the pressure on red hot favourites St Helens in the sweltering heat.
In contrast, Saints made a series of unusual mistakes – a total of eight in a first half that finished with them trailing 0-12.
It proved too much of a mountain to overcome, despite Theo Fages’ second half try giving them brief hope.
A remarkable 16 points clear at the Super League summit, Justin Holbrook’s side will now have to regroup quickly to mount a shot at Grand Final redemption.
4. The try that wasn’t
There was less than three minutes on the clock when Saints loose forward Morgan Knowles chased Theo Fages’ kick to the in-goal.
Referee Robert Hicks immediately signalled no try and a Warrington restart, with the game moving quickly on.
But video replays suggested that Knowles had in fact scored, prompting huge boos from the St Helens support.
Hicks’ decision not to use the video referee was a surprising one, with Saints fans feeling it was one of a number of big calls that went against them in the first half.
But it was their own errors they will be reflecting most on tonight.
5. No rest for the wicked
Neither side will have too much time to dwell on what happened at Wembley as they are thrust straight back into Super League action.
Winners Warrington play again in just five days with a crucial trip to Salford on Thursday, after five straight league defeats put their play-offs status at unlikely risk.
Saints have an extra day’s rest before hosting Castleford on a night when they will lift the League Leaders’ Shield that they have run away with this year.
That won’t cushion their Wembley disappointment – but regrouping sufficiently to win at Old Trafford in October might.
It could yet be the Wolves standing in their way again.
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