By Sky Sports Rugby League
Last Updated: 20/09/19 11:25pm
Wigan Warriors managed to fend off a determined Salford Red Devils for an 18-12 win in Friday’s Super League qualifying final.
The sides went in all square at the break as a converted try from George Griffin just before half-time cancelled out one by Wigan’s Oliver Gildart in the 25th minute.
The visitors had possible tries from Joey Lussick and Ken Sio ruled out by the video referee too, with Wigan taking advantage through second-half scores from Thomas Leuluai and George Williams.
Jackson Hastings, who will join the Warriors next season, went over just after the hour to set up a grandstand finish, but the defending champions held their nerve to set up a showdown with St Helens.
The loser of that match will have a second bite of the cherry – as do Salford, who will seek to keep alive their bid for a maiden Grand Final appearance when they play Castleford Tigers at the AJ Bell Stadium next Thursday.
The defeat brought the Red Devils’ eight-match winning run to an end despite the best efforts of half-back Jackson Hastings, the Man of Steel favourite who showed the Wigan fans what they can expect in 2020.
The away side’s front row of former Wigan players Gil Dudson, Lee Mossop and Logan Tomkins led the way in an arm wrestle throughout a scoreless opening quarter as the teams tested each other out.
The breakthrough from England centre Gildart, scoring for the third successive match after taking stand-off Williams’ pass and hoodwinking his opposite number Kris Welham.
Zak Hardaker, who had earlier missed a penalty from in front of the posts, kicked the touchline conversion to make it 6-0 and Wigan thought they had scored again when right centre Chris Hankinson went through a gap only to be brought back for obstruction.
The visitors were rocking at that stage, but they hung in and drew level just before the interval. Replacement hooker Lussick was denied a try when his opposite number Sam Powell got his body under the ball but there was no stopping second row Griffin two tackles later as Salford maintained the pressure.
Krisnan Inu’s conversion made it 6-6, which meant the visitors were the happier side at half-time.
Wigan coach Adrian Lam’s response was to bring on exciting Australian utility back Bevan French for the second half, with Williams switching to hooker in place of Powell, but with only limited effect.
The Red Devils created the first scoring opportunity of the second half as full-back Niall Evalds worked winger Sio over at the corner, but slow-motion replays showed he had a foot in touch and the home side took full advantage of the let-off with two tries in four minutes.
The first was gift-wrapped for scrum-half Leuluai after Inu’s careless offload near his own line put Jake Bibby in trouble and the second was the result of a break from inside his own half by winger Joe Burgess which was finished off by Williams.
Hardaker added both conversions to open up a 12-point lead but Hastings kept his side in the hunt by brushing off the challenge of forward Liam Farrell to score an opportunist try on 61 minutes.
Wigan had a chance to wrap it up but substitute forward Joe Greenwood dropped Sean O’Loughlin’s pass on the line and they were forced to withstand a tremendous late onslaught from the visitors before they were able to celebrate.