HERE are five things we learned from 2016 Super League playoffs:
1. SALFORD’S Gareth O’Brien struck a stunning golden-point field-goal to send Hull KR crashing out of Super League. Salford had trailed 18-10 but in a scarcely-believable finish, two tries in the final two minutes sent the game into extra-time – and full-back O’Brien’s effort from 45 metres handed his side a dramatic 19-18 win.
18-10 down and two minutes from relegation, then this happens… pic.twitter.com/4nWc5zhMec
— Super League (@SuperLeague) October 2, 2016
The game was marred by crowd-trouble at the end, when fans invaded the pitch and stewards and police had to intervene.
— Nik™ (@N1k07a) October 1, 2016
Salford owner Dr Marwan Koukash celebrated with his own over-sized cheque signed by ‘Big Nigel’ – poking fun at RFL CEO Nigel Wood. Hull KR’s tumble ends a decade-long stay in Super League, and it casts uncertainty over the future of their staff including ex-NRL players Terry Campese, Ken Sio, Maurice Blair and Dane Tilse. Former Kangaroos coach Tim Sheens has previously said he will coach the Robins in 2017, regardless of the outcome – having left his role at Salford.
2. WARRINGTON were the first team to book their place in the Super League Grand Final with a deserved, if occasionally controversial, 18-10 win against St Helens. The Wolves were not at their stylish best and relied heavily on the drives of Chris Hill and Ashton Sims, and the guile of Kurt Gidley. But having claimed the league leaders’ shield (as minor premiers) the week earlier, they are now just 80 minutes away from their first ever Super League title.
3. KIWI centre Anthony Gelling pounced for the match-sealing try as depleted Wigan swept into their fourth-straight Grand Final. The 28-18 scoreline doesn’t begin to do justice to a nail-biting semi-final. Hull FC trailed 14-0 at the break but rallied to take an 18-16 lead heading into the final few minutes, before tries by Sam Powell and Gelling settled the outcome.
4. NOT for the first time this season, video refereeing calls provided major talking points. In the first semi-final, former Warrior Dominique Peyroux appeared to score a try which – with the conversion – would have cut Warrington’s lead to two points. But the on-field ‘no try’ decision was upheld. And the following day, the video official took an eternity to decide Steve Michaels had touched down for Hull FC.
“It was a try, fair enough, but the procedure… I thought I’d been sparked out, like I was dreaming, it kept replaying and replaying,” says Wigan centre Anthony Gelling. “I’d rather have no video ref. They take the sting out of the game.”
5. AND so it comes down to this – Warrington against Wigan, first against second, in front of an expected 70,000 crowd at Manchester United’s Old Trafford this weekend. This Grand Final is a rematch of the exciting 2013 title decider, which Wigan won – their last piece of silverware. Former NRL players Chris Sandow, Sims, Gidley (Warrington), Taulima Tautai, Willie Isa and Frank-Paul Nuuausala (Wigan) are expected to be involved, while the match will see a rugby league icon bow out… veteran commentator Mike ‘Stevo’ Stephenson, 69, is retiring after this weekend’s match.
Super League semi-final results:
Warrington 18 (K.Gidley, S.Ratchford, T.Lineham tries; D.Patton 3 goals) beat St Helens 10 (J.Lomax try; L.Walsh 3 goals).
Wigan 28 (L.Tierney 2, J.Bateman, S.Powell, A.Gelling tries; M.Smith 4 goals) beat Hull FC 18 (J.Bowden, L.Watts, S.Michaels tries; M.Sneyd 3 goals).
Qualifiers, Million Pound Game:
Salford 19 (N.Evalds 2, B.Murdoch-Masila, G.Johnson tries; G.O’Brien goal, fieldgoal) beat Hull KR 18 (A.Walker, J.Mantellato, T.Minns tries; J.Mantellato 3 goals).