This was the night. The culmination of a year’s rugby league encapsulated in eighty minutes as the nailed-on favourites, almost since anyone can remember in 2019, took on the suprrise package, the Salford Red Devils at the theatre of dreams.
Everyone except the Saints fans were ‘Salford for a day’ as the fans from just down the road and all of the neutrals at this grandest of occasions, opened their vocal chords in support of the underdogs.
Salford had earned their Grand Final berth as justifiably as the Saints with defeats of Castleford and Wigan on the road to their first ever Grand Final appearance and they were there to enjoy themselves but also to spring one of the biggest surprises in Super League history and become the fifth name on the famous trophy.
It was the League Leaders versus the Challenge Cup winners at the Totally Wicked Stadium as Grand Final glory was up for grabs in the Betfred Women’s Super League. Castleford were unchanged from their semi-final victory over Wigan while the Rhinos were forced into a change when Shannon Lacey was ruled out with a head injury picked up in their dramatic win at the same venue against Saints five days earlier.
A place in the Betfred Championship would be decided over eighty minutes of frenetic action at the Vestacare Stadium. Oldham and Newcastle went into battle with the home side the favourites by virtue of their higher league place in the regular season.
Oldham were unchanged from the side which defeated Doncaster a fortnight ago. Thunder made just one change from the side which beat Doncaster last weekend to set up todays clash with Carne Doyle-Magna named on the bench in place of Alex Rowe, who broke his arm in that semi-final.
It’s been honours shared in 2019, and there was just one point between them on the league ladder, with close encounters giving little indication of who may emerge victorious ahead of the clash.
There was muchmore than passing British interest in the 2019 Australian NRL Grand Final as three former greats of Super League; John Bateman, Elliott Whitehead and Josh Hodgson were looking to win the ultimate prize wearing the lime green of the Raiders.
These two sides finished second and fourth during the regular season with both sides beating the side one place above them in last weekends semi-finals.
The Roosters were looking to retain their title, and were the favourites with the bookies for the win at the ANZ Stadium, fifteen miles up the road from their base in the eastern suburbs. But the Grand Final is a strange beast and the Canberra supporters who’d made the 170 mile trip north were full of hope and expectation that they would win their first grand final since 1994.
After a long Betfred Championship season everything had come down to one final game. Eighty minutes stood between either the Toronto Wolfpack or Featherstone Rovers and a place in Super League in 2020.
Toronto, who have been nigh on unstoppable all season, had the home advantage as Rovers made their second international journey inside a week, having defeated Toulouse Olympique last weekend to earn their shot at the big time.
Toronto have won both encounters between the two sides in 2019 and came into the game on the back of a twenty-two match winning run which went back all the way to a loss in Toulouse in March. The bookies couldn’t see beyond a home win, but neither could they last season when the London Broncos upset the odds and secured promotion.
There was just six points between the Wigan Warriors and the Salford Red Devils when the two sides met at the same venue just a fortnight ago, in the opening round of the play-offs. The prize tonight was a trip to Old Trafford next Saturday for the game's flagship event, and a chance at picking up the Super League trophy from the grasp of St Helens.
Adrian Lam juggled his side with Ben Flower and Sean O’Loughlin promoted from the bench to the starting line-up compared to a fortnight ago. Ian Watson’s Salford made just one change from the last game, with Greg Burke being brought into the seventeen.
Everyone, including the bookies, expected Wigan to make their eleventh Grand Final, and their sixth in the last seven years. Salford were seeking their first ever appearance at a stadium just five miles over the River Irwell from their base. Momentum, however, was with the Red Devils.
Eighty minutes stood between two sides and a trip to Toronto to face the Wolfpack next Sunday in the Million Pound Game for the right to play in Super League in 2020.
Toulouse Olympique XIII had the home advantage as they looked to secure the trip but they were up against a Featherstone Rovers side who were high on confidence after defeating both Leigh Centurions and the York City Knights in the play-off series so far.
Toulouse emerged victorious from both league matched in 2019 but the largest winning margin was just six points. The outcome when the two sides met on the 7th September was a narrow two point win to the French side. It promised to be a close game.
When these two sides met in the play-offs a fortnight ago, Doncaster took the spoils with a 20-6 away win at the Newcastle Thunder. Today the prize was much higher, a game against Oldham next weekend to determine who would be joining Whitehaven in the Betfred Championship in 2020.
Doncaster were placed behind Newcastle in the regular season, hence the need for a drive up the A1, but with games between the two sides during the regular season being close affairs, it was difficult to pick a favourite from todays clash.
Newcastle made a handful of changes, with Doncaster also making a couple of switches to their line-up. Newcastle were slight favourites with the bookies based on home advantage but Doncaster arrived determined to book themselves a trip to Oldham next weekend.
It was semi-final night at the Totally Wicked Stadium as a St Helens side who’ve so far watched the play-offs from the sidelines had their change to make the Grand Final at the first time of asking. All that stood in the way of the all conquering Saints was their nearest and greatest rivals, Wigan Warriors.
The Warriors edged past a gritty Salford Red Devils last week to take their place in a fourth 2019 running of the worlds oldest derby match. Oliver Partington was back in the Wigan line up in place of the injured Dan Sarginson while Aaron Smith was recalled to the Saints side in place of Matty Costello.
Saints were bigger favourites with the bookies than recent form would suggest, the spectators arriving at the stadium weren’t quite so confident.
For either the Salford Red Devils or the Castleford Tigers, tonight would be the end of the 2019 season. The victors, however, would move on to next weekend and a chance to make the Old Trafford Grand final on the 12th October, in the second semi-final.
Both sides had close play-off games last weekend with contrasting fortunes. Salford lost out narrowly to the Wigan Warriors, while the Tigers went the Halliwell-Jones and knocked out the Warrington Wolves on their own patch.
This was the third meeting between the two sides in 2019 with honours shared at one win apiece coming into tonights game. The Red Devils brought in Greg Burke as a change to last week, and the Tigers had two changes with Nathan Massey and Greg Eden coming into the side.