Super League qualifying final: Wigan Warriors 18-12 Salford Red Devils
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 100-1 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."
Salford Red Devils are within one win of Super League's Grand Final after beating Castleford Tigers in their play-off eliminator.
Salford will face the loser of Friday's semi-final between St Helens and Wigan, with the winner on 4 October heading to Old Trafford eight days later.
Tigers' hopes of a second Grand Final appearance in three seasons are over.
Tyrone McCarthy and Jake Bibby scored first-half tries and Jackson Hastings added a solo effort late on.
After a close opening to the contest, the Red Devils - who were unfancied by many pundits at the start of the campaign but ended up finishing third - took control with two tries in three first-half minutes.
McCarthy grounded a low kick for the game's first points and, after a lengthy check by the video referee, Bibby was adjudged to have remained in play as he touched the ball down in the left corner.
The visitors, who lost to Leeds at Old Trafford in 2017, looked certain to get a try in response but Salford full-back Niall Evalds produced a superb chase and tackle to deny Jordan Rankin.
A strong Salford defensive effort kept Castleford scoreless, and fittingly it was influential half-back Hastings - in his final home outing for the Red Devils before joining Wigan in 2020 - who jinked his way through the Tigers' back line to wrap up victory.
The first of this season's Grand Finalists will be confirmed when St Helens and Wigan, who finished first and second in the table after 29 games, meet on Friday.
The loser of that match will have home advantage against Salford in the second semi-final.
Salford head coach Ian Watson told BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra:
"I'm over the moon. The way we went about the game and played it - we played good wet-weather football in the first half. "We got a bit sloppy but once Niall made the try-saving tackle, we refocused and got back on it. To 'nil' Castleford is a great achievement. "I'm not nervous [about the semi-final]. I'm excited. We all know our role and everyone sticks together. Hopefully we can turn up with a good performance next week and get there [to the Grand Final]."
Castleford head coach Daryl Powell told BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra:
"It was a flat performance from us. It was pretty disappointing. To go 12-0 down so early in the game takes the edge off you. "We've shown a lot of courage and character but ultimately we've lacked a little bit of quality and we've had too many of our better players sat down watching games this year. "I have to credit to all of our players and the way they've worked. After the injuries we've had, it's been a pretty big effort from our club. We need to work hard and go again."
Salford Red Devils reached their first Super League Grand Final after upstaging five-time champions Wigan Warriors at the DW Stadium.
Just 12 months after battling to avoid relegation, the Red Devils have stunned the English rugby league establishment to book a meeting with St Helens at Old Trafford on Saturday, 12 October.
Ex-Wigan prop Gil Dudson's try helped put Salford 12-0 up at the break.
Another ex-Warriors forward Lee Mossop also touched down to seal a famous win.
Former New Zealand and Samoa centre Krisnan Inu crucially contributed 16 points with the boot, with his composure in landing two early penalties setting up the little-fancied Red Devils for one of Super League's most famous upsets.
Dudson's first-half try and further four-pointers from Joey Lussick and Mossop put the visitors on their way to Old Trafford just after the hour mark, with a Bevan French try for Wigan coming as a late consolation effort.
Less than 20 miles separate the two clubs in England's north west, but in terms of Super League pedigree there is a colossal gap - Wigan being a perennial force and one of the game's best-known clubs, while Salford have flirted with relegation and financial troubles in recent years.
Salford, however, have spent 2019 making a mockery of their underdog status.
They were expected to finish closer to the relegation places than the play-off spots, but surprised many by finishing third in the table and have now gone on to set up a showdown with Saints on Super League's showpiece occasion.
Wigan may have been the side more used to competing in big games, but a nervy start by the hosts was clinically exploited by a composed Salford outfit, with Inu kicking two early penalties before Dudson rolled over the line for the game's first try after 14 minutes.
It only got worse for the Warriors, with talismanic playmaker Tommy Leuluai forced off the field and out of the game with a head injury soon afterwards.
When Lussick squeezed over for Salford's second try, the score seemingly crushed Wigan's hopes of a fightback.
Much had been made of Jackson Hastings, the Australian-born half-back and Man of Steel favourite, facing his future employers.
And while he influenced a remarkable result, it was Salford captain Mossop - a Grand Final winner with the Warriors in 2013 - who capped an astonishing result and story by powering over for a try that underlined the Red Devils' dominance.
Salford head coach Ian Watson said it was an "amazing" feeling to "go against the odds".
"I'm delighted for the players," he told BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra. "There are people in our club who probably never thought they'd grace a stage like Old Trafford or a Challenge Cup final ever again.
"With the adversity we've faced over the past four or five years, it's unbelievable."
They will become only the eighth club to appear in a Super League Grand Final since it was introduced as the title-decider in 1998, and will face a St Helens side that finished 16 points clear of the rest at the end of the regular season.
Wigan, aiming to reach a sixth Grand Final in seven years, had been thrashed 40-10 by Saints a week earlier in what was their first shot at once again booking a return to the iconic home of Manchester United.
Errors plagued their game against a slick Salford outfit that also battled resiliently in defence, limiting Wigan - a side that had beaten them in each of their past eight meetings - to just a few fleeting threatening moments.
Defeat brought an end to an at times turbulent season for the Warriors, who made a poor start to life under Adrian Lam - winning just one of their opening six games.
Lam arrived as an interim replacement for Shaun Wane, taking a one-year contract as Wigan awaited the arrival of Shaun Edwards.
The succession plan at the DW Stadium looked a disastrous one in the early months of 2019, with the slow start compounded by the news in April that Edwards had decided against taking up the job from 2020.
Six months into the campaign, however, Wigan had recovered, moving into the play-off spots and Lam being rewarded with a one-year contract extension.
A run of 13 wins from 14 games took them to a play-off semi-final against St Helens last week, but heavy back-to-back defeats made for a miserable finish to their title defence.