Wigan defy critics but face new challenges ahead in 2014

By Matt NewsumBBC Sport
Wigan comeback stuns Warrington

The joy on the face of Sam Tomkins when the hooter went at Old Trafford showed just what it meant to the England full-back to win the Super League Grand Final with Wigan.

In his 152nd and final appearance, before a world-record fee move to New Zealand Warriors, he had helped his side to a success against Warrington that sealed the league and Challenge Cup double, following August's victory against Hull at Wembley.

What made the achievement most special to Tomkins and his team-mates was the backdrop in which it had been won.

Two top-class half-backs Brett Finch and Thomas Leuluai had left the previous winter, as had prolific centre George Carmont, prompting some sections of the media to question whether the club could challenge for honours.

"At the start of this season we were written off to be finishing fourth, fifth, sixth or seventh or whatever it was, because we lost a few players," Tomkins told BBC Sport.

"To silence those people and win the double is unbelievable."

The loss of such quality players was overcome by some inspired recruitment from Wigan coach Shaun Wane, with the new pairing of Matty Smith from Salford and Hull KR stand-off Blake Green playing starring roles in their success.

Smith picked up the Lance Todd Trophy in the Wembley final for his consummate kicking game, while Green overcame a facial cut, after being caught by a swinging arm from Ben Westwood, to score a thrilling try and collect the Harry Sunderland Trophy in the Super League showpiece.

"What character he showed after having his eye busted after two minutes," Tomkins said.

"You can teach players how to catch and pass and kick but you can't teach character. Without him we wouldn't have won."

In addition to new arrivals the squad has seen the resurgence of home-grown talent, which has provided the backbone to the push for honours.

Michael McIlorum and Logan Tomkins at hooker, Liam Farrell in the back-row and Josh Charnley and Darrell Goulding in the three-quarters have all shone for Wane - who coached many of them at academy level before their step-up to the seniors.

"It's a special occasion to win with your hometown club," Goulding told BBC Sport.

"It's massive to have local lads in the team. You've seen the same thing with Leeds over the years and how well they've done. We've started doing the same over the last couple of years.

"There's players here, and I know I have, who have grown up playing together and there's that bond you have from that.

"There's no-one we'd want to win more for than Shaun. You saw after the game how everyone wanted to go straight to him.

"He means a lot to all the lads, and the players all do to each other and it's a culture we have built into this club."

Reward for winning the Grand Final is a place in the World Club Challenge, against NRL Premiership winners Sydney Roosters.

As a player Wane played in 1987's inaugural final between Wigan and Manly at Central Park, and was assistant to Michael Maguire when the Warriors were beaten by St George Illawara in 2011.

"I can't tell you how much I am looking forward to that," Wane added.

"To play in that sort of competition whether it is in Sydney or here, it will be great. It's a pity it's not against the Souths [Maguire's current side], that would have been interesting but it is great."

Having coped with major squad changes in 2013, Wane will have to do so again as Tomkins is followed out of the club by prolific winger Pat Richards, England prop Lee Mossop and versatile forward Chris Tuson.

Richards and Mossop will head to Wests Tigers and Parramatta Eels for next season, while Tuson crosses the Pennines to join Hull FC.

In return Matt Bowen has come in from North Queensland Cowboys to replace Tomkins, Eddy Pettybourne arrives from Wests Tigers while Sam Hopkins' promise at Championship level with Leigh prompted the Warriors to secure his signature.

"The four lads that are leaving have been outstanding, all of them, and I love them to pieces, but teams move on," Wane said.

"[Sean] O'Loughlin has been loyal, McIlorum too, I'm really pleased not just for the four that are leaving but also the lads that have been here for years."

Wane and Wigan proved their critics wrong in 2013, but with such a drain of talent, they might just find themselves facing the same doubters come the start of the 2014 season.

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