Grand Final set for surprising lack of empty seats

Wigan Warriors and Catalans Dragons are set to collide in 26th Super League Grand Final at the Theatre of Dreams: Old Trafford.

Catalans are joining an elite club just by reaching the Grand Final as they follow in the footsteps of Leeds Rhinos, Warrington Wolves, Bradford Bulls, St Helens and opponents Wigan as only the sixth team to play in more than one Grand Final.

But the legacy of their last Grand Final is a concern over empty seats with less than 50,000 in attendance in 2021.

This was when they lost 12-10 to St Helens who secured a third consecutive title in a Grand Final that was undoubtedly impacted by the pandemic.

This year then there have been concerns about attendances and empty seats. With 55,000 tickets confirmed to gave been sold there will only be a maximum of 19,000 seats for the Grand Final.

But with a crowd of 60,000 hoped for, this could also be as little as 14,000 with Old Trafford having a capacity of just shy of 75,000.

This is a vast improvement on what fans were fearing ahead of the event.

Anyone who wants to question the Catalans fans needs to only look at the passion showed against St Helens.

The play-off atmosphere was evident from the get go, as was the physicality, with both LMS and Taukeiaho starting showing the intent for a physical start. Neither side truly threatened in the early stages with a Matt Whitley knock-on on halfway ending the most exciting attack.

Micky McIlorum made a mistake to provide Saints with territory and were it not for a brilliant defensive read by centre Ikuvalu then Bennison would have been in, the closest chance in a nervy opening 15 minutes.

The home side looked to have scored first in the corner when Tom Johnstone capitalised on a Jonny Lomax error, however Chris Kendall’s no try call wasn’t overturned by Jack Smith – seemingly for a shove from Johnstone on Lomax, albeit a harsh one.

The nerves were on show as Tom Johnstone knocked on from a simple pick up of the ball within his 20 metres however Saints couldn’t capitalise with Alex Walmsley dropping a carry on the resulting set.

Catalans took the lead just ahead of the half hour mark following a Sione Mata’utia high shot on Sam Tomkins. The Dragons opted for two with Keighran kicking over from 30 yards out to make it 2-0, the score remaining the same till the half time whistle.

Jack Welsby was at his very best once again, dragging the defenders wide to the left hand flank before playing a clever pass to allow centre Will Hopoate to dance through on the 50 minute mark to make it 6-2 to the reigning champions.

When a Moses Mbye high tackle offered the home side a penalty in front of the sticks from 30 metres then Adam Keighran opted to take the two, bringing the game back to 6-4, with the Dragons receiving the ball once again from the restart.

A Mitchell Pearce kick was knocked on by Jack Welsby and Matty Lees was then penalised for lying on at the play the ball, seeing yellow for the professional foul. That saw Saints drop to 12 with Lees in the sin bin and Adam Keighran score his third penalty of the game, making the game six points a piece with less than ten minutes to go.

After a flurry of penalties and a blocked drop goal from Tomkins it was finally the moment of magic that the game had been waiting for. Saints raced off the line to block the kick and Tomkins wound back the clock to dodge the chase and dart through under the sticks after a brilliant step. A supreme try!