Preview: 2020 Betfred Super League Grand Final
Friday’s Betfred Super League Grand Final is a “gold medal match for Super League” according to Wigan Warriors head coach Adrian Lam.
After a season of almost 10 months, the 2020 campaign will come to a dramatic end as Lam’s Warriors take on rivals St Helens at the KCOM Stadium.
There were some concerns around the credibility of the season because of Covid-19, but undoubtedly the best two teams will take to the field for Super League’s showpiece match on Friday night.
“It’s a great result for Super League to have two massive clubs playing in the Grand Final," Lam said.
“The year has been a difficult one and both teams have had 12-month seasons; this game has been a long time coming.
“I think the game will be as good a game as we’ve seen all season; we saw that when we played Saints last month – it was one of the best games in Super League and the NRL this year in terms of intensity and ball-in-play.
“I can’t see it being anything other than the highlight of 2020.”
Lam is coaching in his first Grand Final, but he does have one appearance as player to his name, scoring Warriors’ solitary try in their loss to Bradford Bulls in 2001.
The 50-year-old wants to use the painful memories of that result to make sure the current crop of Warriors don’t experience a similar defeat.
“As a player, you have memories about why things went well for you in the big games and why they didn’t, and you want to try to use those moments to help you when it comes to coaching," he explained.
“I try to do that as much as possible as a coach. If you can part with that information to your players, then it can help make sure they don’t go through losing experiences themselves."
2000, the first Grand Final where @Saints1890 & Warriors went head-to-head 👀💪
They face-off in the 2020 #GrandFinal this Friday live on @SkySportsRL, 8pm kick-off #SuperLeague pic.twitter.com/jpfYbDnJ89
— Betfred Super League (@SuperLeague) November 24, 2020
Saints head coach Kristian Woolf is looking to win the Grand Final in his first year at the club.
His side struggled in the early part of 2020 but won 10 games on the bounce post-lockdown and looked somewhere near their scintillating best in the semi-final win over Catalans Dragons.
And Woolf is hopeful his side can round off the year in the perfect way.
“It has been a long and tough season and different to any other campaign I've been a part of," he said.
“To get to the end and have the opportunity we have is outstanding and something we are looking forward to.
“It is a shame that we can’t have 60,000 people there creating an atmosphere, but it doesn’t take away from what the game is going to be one bit.
“Playing in the Grand Final is a great occasion, and we can be proud of ourselves for getting here."
Despite not experiencing the atmosphere of a Saints v Warriors derby in front of a crowd, Woolf is fully aware of just how much it means to both clubs.
Saints beat a youthful Warriors side 42-0 back in September. However, the Cherry & Whites were the victors when the sides met in the League Leaders' Shield decider last month.
“I have only been here 12 months, but I have learned about the rivalry very quickly. The respect that exists between the two towns as well as the two teams adds to the occasion," he outlined.
“The last Wigan game was very much like a semi-final. The intensity it was played at and the back-and-forth nature of it - both teams went toe-to-toe for really long periods and without any errors.
“We will take plenty from that game and have definitely learned a lot.”
Friday's match comes at the end of a gruelling four-month period for the sport and Woolf was keen to praise both Super League and his players for all their efforts since the August restart.
“I think Super League deserve credit for the way they have made strong decisions," he said.
“The players deserve all the praise we can give them as well. They are the ones who have taken the risks – in terms of going back to work when others were not.
“They have done that without crowds and with a lot of restrictions in place for their protection.
“But that adds to the mental load and the difficulty in what is already a tough season.
“They have done that really well.”
2010, @WiganWarriorsRL end their 12 year wait to become #SuperLeague champions again with a win over Saints 🏆💯
2020 #GrandFinal, Warriors v Saints live on @SkySportsRL this Friday, 8pm kick-off pic.twitter.com/ypx8vwPKh9
— Betfred Super League (@SuperLeague) November 25, 2020
The 2020 Grand Final takes on extra significance because of the retirements of both Sean O'Loughlin and James Graham.
The pair will bow out after long and illustrious careers in the sport.
On Graham's impact, Woolf said: "He's been a terrific player for this club and in Australia for a long time.
"He's a bloke who gives you absolutely everything in every training session and game in terms of passion and effort.
"There is no better example for any young forward than him, and we would like to help him end his career on a happy note."
Warriors' Lam was equally as positive about his own retiring legend.
"We’ll work really hard to make sure he goes out a winner - Lockers [Sean O'Loughlin] deserves that,” Lam added.
"You can’t underestimate what’s he done for our sport. I’m sure he’s got some young children who look up to him and play rugby league for that reason."
Last time Saints & the Warriors met in a #GrandFinal 🤝 2014 as @Saints1890 came out on top 🏆
2020 Grand Final, Wigan Warriors v St Helens, live on Sky Sports Main Event & Arena this Friday, 8pm kick-off #SuperLeague pic.twitter.com/tToM9w54UL
— Betfred Super League (@SuperLeague) November 26, 2020
Having missed the semi-final, Sam Powell returns to Warriors’ squad for Friday's game. Joe Greenwood could also feature, but Ben Flower is out with a hamstring injury.
Saints name an unchanged squad from their win over Dragons. Despite picking up injuries in that match, Alex Walmsley and the retiring Graham are both fit.
Wigan Warriors: Zak Hardaker, Chris Hankinson, Oliver Gildart, Joe Burgess, Bevan French, Tommy Leuluai, Tony Clubb, Sam Powell, George Burgess, Willie Isa, Liam Farrell, Sean O’Loughlin, Joe Greenwood, Morgan Smithies, Oliver Partington, Joe Bullock, Liam Byrne, Jake Bibby, Harry Smith, Jackson Hastings, Brad Singleton.
St Helens: Lachlan Coote, Tommy Makinson, Kevin Naiqama, Regan Grace, Jonny Lomax, Theo Fages, Alex Walmsley, James Roby, Zeb Taia, Dom Peyroux, Louie McCarthy Scarsbrook, Morgan Knowles, Matty Lees, Kyle Amor, Aaron Smith, James Bentley, Jack Welsby, Joe Batchelor, Josh Simm, Lewis Dodd, James Graham.
Referee: Chris Kendall