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Grand Final preview: Goodbyes, first times and ‘like father, like son’

Warrington v Wigan stats

Fewer than 11 miles separate the towns of Warrington and Wigan, whose fans will descend on Old Trafford for Super League’s Grand Final on Saturday.

The local rivals will compete in the showpiece event with both having points to prove.

Wolves have been one of the most consistent performers in England over the past decade but have never clinched the top prize, while the Warriors will be looking to avoid a third straight loss at the final hurdle.

BBC Sport takes a look at some of the sub-plots to look out for.

61 years of hurt

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Warrington might not have won a league title for 61 years but won three of four Challenge Cups between 2009 and 2012

Terraces have long rejoiced in Warrington’s wait for a title, mockingly taunting with the “it’s always our year” chant, but the 2016 team has as good a chance as any to finally end the jeers.

You have to go back to 1955 for the last Wire team to be champions, when Ces Mountford’s side beat Oldham 7-3 in the play-off.

Tony Smith’s team have already won the League Leaders’ Shield, pipping Hull FC in the final game of the Super 8s to avenge their Challenge Cup final defeat.

However, two finals against Wigan at Old Trafford have both ended in defeat – in the first Premiership final at the home of Manchester United in 1986-87 and then again in the 2013 Grand Final.

Annus horribilis

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Wigan hooker Michael McIlorum suffered a broken leg in the World Club Series loss to Brisbane Broncos in February

When it comes to injuries this season, Wigan are a club that can feel hard done by.

Influential hooker Micky McIlorum was ruled out for the entire season after their third game, with Tony Clubb, Lee Mossop, Dom Manfredi, Joel Tomkins and Sam Tomkins also facing long spells out, and captain Sean O’Loughlin missing out on the final.

“It’s been a test this year, it’s been the most unenjoyable year,” said head coach Shaun Wane.

“Every week we’ve not had players training, losing players for games, it has been a real slog every single week. Every day I have had the physio pulling players out of training and it has been tough.

“If we can get the win on Saturday it will be the most enjoyable win I have ever had.”

The final goodbye

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Josh Charnley will hope to add to his 23 tries in 2016

When Josh Charnley takes to the field at Old Trafford for the Grand Final, he, more than most, will be trying to take in every second of the day.

The winger will be representing his hometown club for the last time before his cross-code switch to Premiership rugby union side Sale Sharks.

Super League’s top try scorer in 2012 and 2013, he has crossed 164 times in 173 appearances for the Cherry and Whites.

“Last week (the semi-final win over Hull FC) was my last game at the DW Stadium, which was a sad week for me and my family,” he told BBC Sport.

“It’s been a big part of my life and it was emotional but I took it in and to get the win and finish on a good note there was what I was dreaming of.

“I’ve not thought about the move too much as I’ve had a job here to do. When I said I was leaving, I wanted some silverware to finish on and I’ve got that chance now – I’m in a final on the biggest stage.

“It’s on the backburner and I’m keeping an eye on what Sale are doing. I watched them at the weekend and it is good to see what the team has got.”

First season double?

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Kurt Gidley, who has 12 Australia caps, spent his entire career at Newcastle Knights before joining Wolves

Whereas Wigan’s Charnley might be a veteran of four Grand Finals, Warrington’s 34-year-old Australian Kurt Gidley will be making his first appearance.

The half-back has settled into life in his first season in England with some ease, and is currently the third-highest points scorer in Super League with 206.

So what does the prospect of playing at the home of Manchester United feel like? “It probably means more to the Australian guys, that is my opinion as we’re so far away in Australia,” he told BBC Radio Merseyside.

“Some of the world’s best sportsmen have played here, so to be an Australian playing a Grand Final at Old Trafford is a pretty amazing achievement.

“But I just don’t want to be an athlete who’s played here, I want to be a Grand Final winner. A lot of my friends have texted me this week and they’re almost as excited as me.”

Like father, like son

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Jason Robinson (left) won 15 trophies at Wigan, with Lewis Tierney looking for his first

As well as winning the World Cup in rugby union, being a cross-code international and playing for the Lions, Jason Robinson first made his name in rugby league and scored the winning try in the first Grand Final as Wigan beat Leeds 10-4 in 1998.

His son, 21-year-old full-back Lewis Tierney, is expected to play for the Warriors in his first Grand Final on Saturday.

Asked if he will speak to his father, Tierney said: “We’ve got a tight bubble here so I’ll keep my questions to my coach. Whatever they tell me goes and hopefully we’ll get it done at the weekend.”

View from the press box

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Dave Woods (far right) will be part of the BBC commentary team at Old Trafford

BBC rugby league commentator Dave Woods: “Wigan have impressed this season with the way they’ve succeeded through adversity. No O’Loughlin, Sam and Joel Tomkins, McIlorum, Clubb, Manfredi – yet there will to win remains very much intact.

“Warrington are highly entertaining, and in the mood can blaze a trail through any defence. If self-belief is flowing, they’ll be hard to stop.”

BBC Radio 5 live’s George Riley: “Warrington are one of the most watchable teams in the game with ball in hand. When they get on a roll they play the ball so quickly, and Daryl Clark, Kurt Gidley and Stefan Ratchford can run riot. They will win a Grand Final, whether they win it this time or not.

“Wigan never know when they are beaten. Winger Josh Charnley tells me they are ‘unique’ in that they’re a team of players playing in unfamiliar positions yet look completely at home. That they have reached Old Trafford without Sean O’Loughlin and Sam Tomkins is a huge credit to Shaun Wane and his team’s spirit.”

BBC Radio Merseyside’s Ray French: “Wigan’s rough, rugged pack, strong running half-backs, and powerful finishers in the three-quarter line versus Warrington’s pacy, ball-handling set of six, tricky, exciting halves and creative footballers behind – a contrast of talents. What a contest in prospect. But one so difficult from which to predict a winner.”

BBC Radio Manchester’s Jack Dearden: “Winning the Super League Grand Final will be as easy as ADC – Attack. Defence. Composure.

“Warrington have Super League’s best attack so arguably that’s their strength, while Wigan’s coach Shaun Wane frequently refers to his teams ‘D’ – defence. The Warriors will have to get that right if they’re to win. Staying composed and being able to evaluate everything a Grand Final can throw at you is another key component to success. Whichever team does it best will set themselves up for victory.”

Additional reporting by BBC Sport’s Matt Newsum.

Article source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/rugby-league/37545067