YORK Valkyrie sealed their place in a second successive Betfred Women’s Super League Grand Final following a 22-6 victory over Wigan Warriors at the LNER Community Stadium this afternoon.

Despite being the favourites ahead of the tie, the Valkyrie did not have things all their own way, with their slow start punished by Grace Banks, who brought Wigan onto the scoreboard just two minutes into the contest.

But when a quick-fire double from Liv Whitehead and Liv Gale put the Valkyrie back on the ascendancy, they did not look back, nilling their opponents for the rest of the contest with an outstanding defensive effort.

Second-rower Savannah Andrade was sent to the benches for 10 minutes as the match neared its conclusion but it mattered little, a late try from the returning Lacey Owen sealing their place against Leeds Rhinos in a repeat of last season's trophy-crowning match at the LNER Community Stadium on October 8.

RECAP: York Valkyrie 22-6 Wigan Warriors - Play-off Semi Final

Anfield made two changes to the side that closed out the regular season with victory against Huddersfield Giants 13 days ago, with Whitehead and Owen returning to the squad, the latter from a hand fracture sustained last month.

That saw Georgie Hetherington drop out due to concussion protocols, and Daisy Sanderson named as their 18th Woman.

Wigan made the perfect start in the North Yorkshire sunshine, taking the lead just a minute and a half into the contest.

Anfield had warned of the pace of Banks before kick-off, and the young half-back confirmed those fears after intercepting a loose York pass inside her own 10-metre line before running the length of the field to cross beneath the posts.

Beri Salihi added the extras after being left with the simplest of conversions, but that would be the last points that her side scored.

With Wigan’s plan of kicking into the Valkyrie’s left evident, York looked to have been dealt another blow as after collecting Sinead Doria’s kick, Stanley was hit hard, the tackle leaving the reigning Woman of Steel in some pain holding her ankle.

Thankfully for the hosts, she was able to continue, providing the foundations for the Valkyrie’s opening score.

Minutes after they had squandered a fine opportunity on the right edge, York won a penalty for a high shot on Stanley, a superb burst from Sinead Peach seeing the ball passed to Sade Rihari, who released Whitehead to cross into the right corner.

York Press: Liv Whitehead hit back for York after diving over into the right corner.Liv Whitehead hit back for York after diving over into the right corner. (Image: Craig Hawkhead)

And the Valkyrie were in front from the restart, an outstanding drive from Andrade opening up space for Gale to stroll across the whitewash from 10 metres to nudge her side in front.

Stanley converted the latter but not the former, giving York a four-point lead with 25 minutes played.

Those scores seemed to have lit a fire under the Valkyrie, with captain Peach creating plenty of speed in their attack, but poor decision-making and errors close to the line saw them penalised for a high tackle and a knock-on as they closed in on the whitewash.

York were robust in their defence however, Stanley adding her name to the scoresheet with four minutes of the opening half remaining as she bamboozled the Wigan back line, collecting Rihari’s pass before stepping left, right and left again, bundling over from close range to give the Valkyrie a 14-6 lead at the interval.

A scuffle involving Andrade on the left edge presented Wigan with the first attacking opportunity of the second half, but despite Doria somehow keeping possession from a big hit, their tackles ran out 10 metres from the York line.

Wigan were unforgiving in their tenacity, but they were the architects of their own downfall as Stanley took the two points on offer after the visitors were penalised for offside following a burst of pace from the impressive Elisa Akpa.

Anfield’s side again looked to build on their lead from the restart, with carries from Gale and interchange Rhiannion Marshall bringing them to within 10 metres of the line, but Stanley instead saw her kick bounce out of play for a Wigan 20-metre restart.

York Press: France captain Elisa Akpa was voted our Woman of the Match.France captain Elisa Akpa was voted our Woman of the Match. (Image: Craig Hawkhead)

Drives from Marshall, Jas Bell and Akpa continued to present the Valkyrie with attacking opportunities, but they continued to make mistakes in the final phase, Carrie Roberts and Gale both fumbling passes in their direction.

But it was perhaps at the other end of the field that York were at their most impressive, defending for their lives as Wigan looked to carve out an opening from successive penalties 10 metres from their line.

Andrade then thought that she had relieved the pressure but instead saw herself sin-binned for a high tackle, keeping her sidelined for the majority of the rest of the contest.

However, the Valkyrie stood up to the subsequent test of their back line superbly despite their woman disadvantage, forcing both loose forward Rachel Thompson and centre Anna Davies into errors inches from the whitewash.

That proved crucial, with Owen ensuring victory for her side with six minutes remaining.

Akpa proved too strong for the Wigan defence to bring the Valkyrie within 10 metres of the line, with Stanley then finding the returning second-rower, who forced force her way across from close range.

A neck injury to Tamzin Renouf threatened to dampen the occasion for York, who remained determined to add to the scoreboard further, but they saw their plight ended with a tackle on the 20-metre line on the hooter.

A second consecutive Grand Final against Leeds Rhinos now awaits for the Valkyrie on October 8 (2:30pm), as they look to finish their season with the so far elusive title.

YORK VALKYRIE: Stanley, Kershaw, Renouf, Roberts, Whitehead, Rihari, Gale, Akpa, Peach, Staveley, Andrade, Owen, Wood.

INTERCHANGES: Bell, Marshall, Hyde, Sharp.

TRIES: Whitehead (22), Gale (24), Stanley (36), Owen (74)

GOALS: Stanley 3/5

YELLOW CARDS: Andrade (69)

WIGAN WARRIORS: Salihi, Miller, Davies, Jones, Hilton, Banks, Doria, Speakman, Marsh, Coleman, Hunter, Molyneux, Thompson.

INTERCHANGES: Jones, Johnson, Hayes, Bardsley.

TRIES: Banks (2)

GOALS: Salihi 1/1

POINTS SEQUENCE: 0-4, 0-6, 4-6, 8-6, 10-6, 14-6, 16-6, 20-6, 22-6


YORK’S STAR WOMAN: Elisa Akpa. The French prop was superb in gaining field position for the Valkyrie, laying the foundations for Stanley’s penalty and Owen’s decisive try.

REFEREE: Elliott Burrow