The first of two mouthwatering Women’s Super League play off games pitted recently crowned minor premiers York Valkyrie against a Wigan Warriors side who are acknowledged to be the weakest of the sides remaining in the competition after only winning three from their ten games iu 2023, but who would come into the game with a desperate point to prove.
York came into the game unbeaten after an excellent regular season and with a 40-6 win in July and a 36-4 win in August signalled that it would be the Valkyrie who would be progressing to the Grand Final on the 8th October.
It would take a monumental shock for Wigan to take the spoils.
It was a sensational opening for Wigan Warriors when Grace Banks intercepted a wayward York pass ten metres from her own line and sprinted ninety metres to score under the sticks, the Valkyrie players unable to catch her. Beri Salihi added the conversion for a surprise 6-0 lead to Wigan.
With Tara Jane Stanley picking up an ankle injury the Valkyrie were plunged into crisis as their talisman limped around the field trying to play herself back to fitness. Consecutive penalties to Wigan inside the York half on sixteen gave them a great opportunity but York held them out.
On twenty-one Liv Whitehead took a looping pass from Stanley to dive over in the corner from ten metres out for the opening York points of the afternoon. Stanley was unable to add the conversion from wide on the touchline.
Within two minutes Liv Gale finished a simple walk-in try after a fast play the ball on the back of an Savannah Andrade break down the centre of the field. Stanley added the conversion and York had a 10-6 lead, but it had taken them twenty-five minutes to hit the front, but now they were starting to dominate as the Warriors tired.
Stanley extended the York lead in the closing minutes of the half when she took a pass ten from the line and took four tired Wigan defenders over the line with her to ground. She was unable to add the conversion, but Valkyrie had a 14-6 lead at the interval.
The first points of the second half came from the boot of Stanley on fifty-seven to extend the lead to ten points but the game was a real arm-wrestle and now the walk-over that many were predicting.
The possession and position was all York, Wigan on the back foot but defending for all that they were worth.
A high tackle from Andrade on Rachel Thompson saw the York second rower sin-binned, Wigan with an extra body for all but the last fifty seconds of the game.
Tamzin Renouf gave away a penalty under her own sticks on seventy-one and then argued with the referee, but Wigan couldn’t take advantage and coughed up possession.
The outcome was put beyond doubt on seventy-four when Lacey Owen ran the perfect line, fended off her tackler and dropped over the line for the fourth York try of the afternoon. Stanley added her third kick of the afternoon for a final score of 22-6.
It wasn’t the walkover which most pundits had predicted, and Wigan gave York a great game and a bit of a scare for long periods where the Valkyrie knew that they were in a battle for the Grand Final berth. Wigan grew in stature today, even in defeat, and will build on this for next season. York now have a home Grand Final in a fortnights time as they look to lift the trophy for the first time after disappointment last year.
York Valkyrie: Stanley (T, 3G), Kershaw, Renouf, Roberts, Whitehead (T), Rihari, Gale (T), Akpa, Peach, Staveley, Andrade (SB on 69), Owen (T), Wood. Subs: Bell, Marshall, Hyde, Sharp. 18th Man: Sanderson.
Wigan Warriors: Salihi (G), Miller, Davies, Jones, Hilton, Banks (T), Doria, Speakman, Marsh, Coleman, Hunter, Molyneux, Thompson. Subs: Bardsley, Jones, Johnson, Hayes. 18th Man: Morris.
Score Progression: 0-4, 0-6, 4-6, 8-6, 10-6, 14-6 : HT: 16-6, (SB), 20-6, 22-6 :FT.
Lead Exchanges: Wigan - York.
Referee: Elliott Burrow.