Super League Grand Final: St Helens beat Wigan Warriors at Old Trafford
Last Updated: 14/01/15 11:47am
St Helens won their first Super League Grand Final since 2006 with a 14-6 victory over Wigan at Old Trafford.
Saints had lost five Grand Finals since their victory over Hull eight years ago but took advantage of Ben Flower's second-minute red card to beat their fiercest rivals.
Wales international Flower, 26, made unwanted history when he became the first player to be sent off in a Grand Final.
The incident came less than three minutes into a spectacle watched by a 70,102 crowd at Old Trafford.
Flower appeared to take exception to stand-off Lance Hohaia's use of a forearm on him during a Wigan attack and reacted by knocking him to the ground with a left hook.
The former Crusaders forward then struck his defenceless opponent with a second punch to his face while he laid motionless on the turf.
St Helens struggled for a long time to make their numerical advantage tell but second-rower Sia Soliola's try, on his final appearance in Super League, helped to put his side in front for the first time after 53 minutes, and winger Tom Makinson added a second 12 minutes from the end to clinch the club's first title for eight years.
In addition to Soliola, Saints' victory enabled his second-row partner Willie Manu and coach Nathan Brown to bow out on a high as Saints banished the memory of their five consecutive Grand Final defeats from 2007-11.
It was especially sweet for Saints' two survivors from that demoralising run: captain Paul Wellens, who equalled Jamie Peacock's record of 10 Old Trafford appearances, and hooker James Roby, who won the Harry Sunderland Trophy as man of the match.
Yet the abiding memory of a tense and scrappy affair will be the moment that Flower lost his cool.
The animosity that exists between these two great rivals was illustrated by Wigan coach Shaun Wane's colourful comments in the build-up and demonstrated straight from the kick-off when Dom Crosby was sent flying by a crunching hit from Saints forward Kyle Amor.
But there was no real hint of the drama to come when Flower attacked New Zealander Hohaia.
Hohaia was helped from the field badly dazed, only to return after the final hooter to help his team-mates celebrate their famous victory, while Wigan were left to play for 77 minutes with 12 men, although they took the lead with Matty Smith's 17th-minute penalty.
For a time Flower's name was the top-trending topic on Twitter in the United Kingdom and he looks certain to be the talking point for some time to come.
A Rugby Football League spokesman said it would be up to Hohaia and St Helens to decide whether to pursue action outside the game's jurisdiction, otherwise the case would go as normal before the match-review panel on Monday.
Wigan had also suffered a major blow before kick-off when hooker Michael McIlorum was ruled out with a fractured eye socket.
The England international suffered the injury in the semi-final win over Warrington and, although he was said to be keen to take his place in the team to face St Helens at Old Trafford, a Wigan spokesman said the club were not prepared to take a risk and he was ruled out by the club doctor.
Utility player Sam Powell took McIlorum's place in the Warriors' starting line-up, with George Williams going onto the bench for his first appearance for two months.
While Wigan were forced to play virtually the whole game one man down, Saints were perhaps just as badly affected by the early fracas.
Already without an injured trio of playmakers in Luke Walsh, Jon Wilkin and Jonny Lomax, Wellens was forced into a midfield role, with Makinson switching to full-back and it was no surprise that St Helens struggled for cohesion.
With skipper Sean O'Loughlin at the heart of a tremendous rearguard action, Wigan soaked up all the early pressure and scored the game's first try 19 seconds before the break when 19-year-old winger Joe Burgess took Blake Green's cut-out pass to cross at the corner.
Mark Percival had scored Saints' only first-half points with a penalty but Soliola took Roby's pass to force his way over for an equalising try after 53 minutes and that gave the underdogs a sniff.
Percival's conversion edged Saints in front and Makinson pulled off a try-saving tackle on England forward Liam Farrell to keep them ahead.
Smith had a chance to level the scores but he was wide with a penalty attempt.
Saints made sure of the win when Makinson was the first to Wellens' kick and forced his way past Smith and full-back Matty Bowen to touch down for the winner.