Veteran halfback Mitchell Pearce didn’t get his fairytale ending with Catalans Dragons going down to Wigan Warriors 10-2 in a thrilling Super League Grand Final in front of 58, 137 fans at Old Trafford.
Scores were locked up two-all at half time with both teams slotting a penalty goal each. But it was Warriors winger Liam Marshall who scored the only try of the game. Wigan later extended their lead with another penalty goal.
Pearce struggled defensively at times — including a crucial miss in the lead-up to the Marshall try — but he did come up with an important tackle right before he left the field with 13 minutes to go.
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The 34-year-old hangs up the boots with 309 NRL games and a premiership to go with them as well as 41 English Super League games. He represented New South Wales 19 times.
Wigan centre Jake Wardle was named player of the match but it was the kicking game of halfback Harry Smith that was the difference between the two sides.
Smith partnered former Eel Bevan French, who made the switch to five-eighth midway through the season and hit stunning form to finish top of the competition in try assists — and claim the Man of Steel award.
Former Dragon and Eel Jai Field caused head aches for Catalans, who were forced to play with 12 men for 20 minutes due to two yellow cards.
The defence of winger Tom Johnstone — who was short-listed for the Man of Steel award — was a highlight for Catalans with the 28-year-old coming up with two try-saving tackles on Field as well as cleaning up a kick from Smith that very well could’ve led to a try.
But it wasn’t enough with Wigan claiming their sixth Super League title and first since 2018.
It was a sad ending for 29-time English international Sam Tomkins, who has also called time on his career after spending the last five seasons with Catalans.
Ironically his final game was against the club he played his most footy for, making 213 appearances for Wigan between 2008 and 2018 — with a two-year stint in the NRL in between.
A dejected Tomkins was spotted with his head down before later conceding to Sky Sports that “Wigan were the much better team.”
He pointed to discipline as an area that cost his side and admitted they “ran out of gas in the last 20 minutes.”
Tomkins became emotional when asked about his career.
“I’ve lived a dream,” he said before pausing.
“It’s sad, I’m sad today but hopefully I can look back over the last 15 years and be happy. I’ve had a lot of high points — it doesn’t get any lower than this — but I’ve had a lot more high.
“I just want to thank everyone… I’m not retiring after 15 years, I’m retiring from something I did since I was five-years old.
“I need to thank the game, it’s made me the player and person that I am. I’m finishing a very happy man… Although this is a low point, some point I’ll be able to look back with a smile I’m sure.”
Catalans coach Steve McNamara was asked about both his and Pearce’s contributions.
“It’s a tough way for them to finish their careers but outstanding careers both of them,” he told Sky Sports.
“It would’ve been nice to finish in the right way but we probably didn’t deserve to do it tonight.”
French was all smiles though after the win topped off a stellar 2023 season for the 27-year-old.
“I am,” French told Sky Sports when asked if he was “stinging for a beer.”
“Bloody hell it feels like the celebrations have gone longer than the game. I’m thirsty so I’m looking forward to celebrating with everyone.
“I’m really proud of getting the win here and the way it was but every lesson we’ve come across this year we’ve come out the other end.
“The past couple of seasons when we got challenged in a tough, grinding game that’s where we kind of fell off.
“Everyone is just grateful to get the win… and Old Trafford, it doesn’t seem real.”
Former NRL players Adam Keighran, Matt Ikuvalu, Tyrone May, Siua Taukeiaho and Manu Ma’u featured in the game for Catalans, while Knights-bound Kai Pearce-Paul played in the second row for Wigan.
Originally published as Mitchell Pearces misses out on fairytale finish in Super League final heartbreak