Salford Red Devils reach Super League Grand Final: Wigan Warriors 4-28 Salford Red Devils
|Betfred Super League - Preliminary Final|
|Wigan Warriors (0) 4|
|Salford Red Devils (12) 28|
|Tries: Dudson, Lussick, Mossop Goals: Inu 8|
Salford Red Devils reached their first Super League Grand Final after upstaging five-time champions Wigan Warriors at the DW Stadium.
Just 12 months after battling to avoid relegation, the Red Devils have stunned the English rugby league establishment to book a meeting with St Helens at Old Trafford on Saturday, 12 October.
Ex-Wigan prop Gil Dudson's try helped put Salford 12-0 up at the break.
Another ex-Warriors forward Lee Mossop also touched down to seal a famous win.
Former New Zealand and Samoa centre Krisnan Inu crucially contributed 16 points with the boot, with his composure in landing two early penalties setting up the little-fancied Red Devils for one of Super League's most famous upsets.
Dudson's first-half try and further four-pointers from Joey Lussick and Mossop put the visitors on their way to Old Trafford just after the hour mark, with a Bevan French try for Wigan coming as a late consolation effort.
Salford upset the odds
Less than 20 miles separate the two clubs in England's north west, but in terms of Super League pedigree there is a colossal gap - Wigan being a perennial force and one of the game's best-known clubs, while Salford have flirted with relegation and financial troubles in recent years.
Salford, however, have spent 2019 making a mockery of their underdog status.
They were expected to finish closer to the relegation places than the play-off spots, but surprised many by finishing third in the table and have now gone on to set up a showdown with Saints on Super League's showpiece occasion.
Wigan may have been the side more used to competing in big games, but a nervy start by the hosts was clinically exploited by a composed Salford outfit, with Inu kicking two early penalties before Dudson rolled over the line for the game's first try after 14 minutes.
It only got worse for the Warriors, with talismanic playmaker Tommy Leuluai forced off the field and out of the game with a head injury soon afterwards.
When Lussick squeezed over for Salford's second try, the score seemingly crushed Wigan's hopes of a fightback.
Much had been made of Jackson Hastings, the Australian-born half-back and Man of Steel favourite, facing his future employers.
And while he influenced a remarkable result, it was Salford captain Mossop - a Grand Final winner with the Warriors in 2013 - who capped an astonishing result and story by powering over for a try that underlined the Red Devils' dominance.
Salford head coach Ian Watson said it was an "amazing" feeling to "go against the odds".
"I'm delighted for the players," he told BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra. "There are people in our club who probably never thought they'd grace a stage like Old Trafford or a Challenge Cup final ever again.
"With the adversity we've faced over the past four or five years, it's unbelievable."
They will become only the eighth club to appear in a Super League Grand Final since it was introduced as the title-decider in 1998, and will face a St Helens side that finished 16 points clear of the rest at the end of the regular season.
Sad end to Wigan's title defence
Wigan, aiming to reach a sixth Grand Final in seven years, had been thrashed 40-10 by Saints a week earlier in what was their first shot at once again booking a return to the iconic home of Manchester United.
Errors plagued their game against a slick Salford outfit that also battled resiliently in defence, limiting Wigan - a side that had beaten them in each of their past eight meetings - to just a few fleeting threatening moments.
Defeat brought an end to an at times turbulent season for the Warriors, who made a poor start to life under Adrian Lam - winning just one of their opening six games.
Lam arrived as an interim replacement for Shaun Wane, taking a one-year contract as Wigan awaited the arrival of Shaun Edwards.
The succession plan at the DW Stadium looked a disastrous one in the early months of 2019, with the slow start compounded by the news in April that Edwards had decided against taking up the job from 2020.
Six months into the campaign, however, Wigan had recovered, moving into the play-off spots and Lam being rewarded with a one-year contract extension.
A run of 13 wins from 14 games took them to a play-off semi-final against St Helens last week, but heavy back-to-back defeats made for a miserable finish to their title defence.
Wigan Warriors: Hardaker; Marshall, Hankinson, Gildart, Burgess; Williams, Leuluai; Flower, Powell, Partington, Isa, Farrell, O'Loughlin.
Interchanges: Clubb, Byrne, Smithies, French.
Salford Red Devils: Evalds; Sio, Welham, Bibby, Inu; Lolohea, Hastings; Mossop, Tomkins, Dudson, Jones, Griffin, McCarthy.
Interchanges: Flanagan, Lussick, Walker, Burke.
Referee: Ben Thaler