|Betfred Super League- Qualifying final|
|Wigan Warriors (6) 18|
|Tries: Gildart, Leuluai, Williams Goals: Hardaker 3|
|Salford Red Devils (6) 12|
|Tries: Griffin, Hastings Goals: Inu 2|
Champions Wigan are one win away from a Super League Grand Final at Old Trafford after getting past Salford in the qualifying final.
George Griffin’s effort cancelled out Oliver Gildart’s try for Wigan in an enthralling first half.
Tommy Leuluai and George Williams tries and a stunning defensive display ensured victory, with Jackson Hastings grabbing Salford’s only reply.
Wigan next face St Helens, and Salford meet Castleford in an eliminator.
An incredible run of form from both sides set up the qualifying final meeting, with Adrian Lam’s Warriors winning 12 of their past 13 matches to finish second in the table at the end of the regular season, while an eight-game winning run saw Salford finish third.
Salford, a side that has defied the odds all season to reach the play-offs and who were ranked a 1000-1 shot for the title at the start of the season, went desperately close making the ideal start as Jake Bibby failed reach a grubber kick from Hastings before it ran dead.
At the other end, Zak Hardaker pulled a straightforward penalty wide soon after, but the hosts eventually took the lead after 24 minutes through Gildart – the centre taking a Williams pass 10 metres out before stepping his way between two defenders to scamper over the line.
Salford thought they had hit back through Joey Lussick, and while his effort to burrow over was not given by the video referee, the Red Devils had the try their first-half exertions deserved just seconds later as Griffin stomped through Wigan’s resistance.
Wigan, however, came up with two tries in four second-half minutes to assume some control of the game against a rival making just their second appearance in the play-offs.
A loose Salford pass close to their own line allowed Leuluai to pounce and restore the hosts’ lead before Williams linked up with Joe Burgess to race away for Wigan’s third.
Hastings, the favourite for the Man of Steel award as Super League’s best player, displayed all the qualities that prompted Wigan to sign him for next season when he hit back against his future employers.
Hastings was one of a wave of players that went close in a thrilling finish at the DW Stadium, but Wigan’s defensive grit stopped Salford from forcing the game into golden-point extra time and saw them move on to a semi-final meeting with bitter rivals and table-toppers St Helens.
Wigan head coach Adrian Lam told BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra:
“I thought our senior players were outstanding. Our whole group were good in the sense of never giving up and having that resilience to hang in there.
“We weren’t good enough with the ball tonight, we made too many mistakes and kept Salford in the game. We had a lead by 12 points and put pressure on ourselves with errors. It’s something we’ll address.
“I just know that the players trust in each other and know what we’re trying to achieve.”
Salford head coach Ian Watson told BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra:
“I’m really proud of the boys. The effort’s been there all season. I just think a little bit of smarts have cost us the game today.
“We spoke about it – you’re not going win this game by 20-30 points. You’ve got to have patience and composure.
“It’s just that play-off football mentality. Teams that are making those little errors – it comes back to bite you.”
Wigan Warriors: Hardaker; Marshall, Hankinson, Gildart, Burgess; Williams, Leuluai; Clubb, Powell, Byrne, Isa, Farrell, Smithies.
Interchanges: Flower, French, Greenwood, O’Loughlin.
Salford Red Devils: Evalds; Sio, Welham, Bibby, Inu; Lolohea, Hastings; Mossop, Tomkins, Dudson, Jones, Griffin, McCarthy.
Interchanges: Lussick, Walker, Flanagan, Lannon.
Referee: Robert Hicks