Wigan Warriors' new dynasty cemented as Matt Peet's side clinch Challenge Cup glory

Bevan French led from the front as Wigan recovered from a riotous opening period to wrap up a record-extending 21st Challenge Cup title with an 18-8 win over Warrington at Wembley. The reigning Super League Man of Steel set up Zach Eckersley for Wigan’s opening try and stretched over for the second himself to ensure his side also became the first team since 2007 to hold all four of the game’s major honours at once.

Warrington rallied and Matt Dufty’s late try gave them a glimmer of hope but in truth they were second best throughout and seldom looked likely to deliver the prestigious silverware to head coach Sam Burgess in his first season in charge. Tributes to Leeds great Rob Burrow completed the build-up to the final with the 64,845 crowd at Wembley – the biggest since 2017 – rising for an impeccably-observed minute’s silence prior to kick-off, and again seven minutes into the match in honour of the shirt he wore with such aplomb.

But the two sides were guilty of taking Burrow’s famous fighting spirit a little too literally in a wild start that saw both Wigan’s Mike Cooper and Warrington full-back Dufty sent to the sin bin for separate incidents. Cooper, preferred for only his third start of the season in the Wigan front row, was penalised by referee Chris Kendall for a swinging arm that left Warrington winger Josh Thewlis prostrate on the turf.

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But two minutes later Warrington’s numerical advantage was wiped out when Dufty also exited for a high tackle on Liam Marshall that sparked a mass confrontation on the touchline. Warrington showed early signs of emerging best equipped after the early chaos, with captain George Williams stopped yards from the line before a Wigan offside gave Thewlis the chance to kick his side in front.

But the high-octane start was clearly having an impact, with Burgess’ side guilty of being over-eager as they gradually gifted their opponents the initiative, culminating in Wigan’s opening try in the 19th minute. After nudging deep into their opponents’ territory, French delivered a perfectly-timed grubber into the path of Eckersley, who seized his moment on only his fourth appearance for the club, shrugging off Matty Ashton to touch down.

Ashton’s knock-on three minutes later from Harry Smith’s high ball kept Warrington pinned back and led to Wigan’s second try, Abbas Miski and Jai Field stretching the Wire defence before French touched down following a scrum.

Warrington looked ragged and unfocused, the normally outstanding Williams off the pace, and they were fortunate to reach half-time within touching distance after French stretched an arm over only to be penalised for a marginal double movement. Ten points adrift, Burgess’ side desperately needed to start the second half on the front foot and they came close five minutes after the restart when Ashton grasped a looping pass wide from Williams only to be bundled into touch within sight of the line.

At the other end, Rodrick Tai’s superb intervention denied Marshall a certain try, and there were signs, particularly through the increasingly influential Williams, that Warrington were stirring. Enter Warriors veteran Liam Farrell, who marked his fifth final by streaking onto a short pass from Field, stepping inside Josh Drinkwater then rolling through a last-ditch challenge from Matty Nicholson to put further clear air between the two sides.

Smith’s third conversion gave Matt Peet’s men an 18-2 advantage but Warrington responded well and gave themselves a glimmer of hope with 15 minutes remaining when Dufty arrowed in from the left, Thewlis’ conversion reducing the arrears to 10. But Wigan saw out the final moments with the minimum of fuss to take the trophy for the second time in three years and add it to the Grand Final, League Leaders’ Shield and World Club Challenge trophies they already own.