Warrington are definite contenders for the title of Super League’s most frustrating team. There’s no denying the level of talent within their squad, but this simply makes it more lamentable that this side has never really made a serious run at a trophy for some time. They seem to be involved in entertaining games on a regular basis, but often because they aren’t putting away sides quick enough. With moves made in the offseason to add some more power to the forwards and more creativity around the ruck, the Wolves really are running out of excuses for not performing.
There were high hopes for the Wolves last season, so what actually transpired (silly defeats, Paul Cullen sacked) turned out to be a relative disappointment. Two of their big-name signings, Michael Monaghan and Matt King, had what could best be described as mediocre seasons. Conversely Chris Hicks, a signing brought in with much less fanare, had an excellent season both on the wing and covering at full-back for Stuart Reardon. Warrington really could do with Monaghan and King having much better campaigns this year, and in King’s case it could be a simple matter of moving him to the wing.
What will help Monaghan is the introduction of Mickey Higham and Gareth Carvell to the Wolves. Carvell is just the kind of forward that the Wolves need, with a proven pedigree (although he had an injury-hit campaign last year) and a never-back-down attitude. With Warrington’s pack not exactly lacking in dynamism, adding Carvell to offer support to Adrian Morley as an enforcer adds a different quality to the forwards. Higham and his sniping runs should also draw some more attention around the ruck and also provide a decent service to Monaghan, Lee Briers and their exciting back-line.
Warrington have been threatening to become a mjor player for the last few seasons now and it’s about time they justified it. They have a team as talented as any other in the competition but they somehow don’t show it. More than anything they need to discover a killer instinct, as they get drawn into far too many close games for their own good (they were involved in seven games decided by six points or less last season). If Warrington start to impose themselves on the opposition a lot more it could mean that we finally see this side live up to the hype.
Pros: Warrington are a side of real attacking threat. When their backline is firing, it’s as good as any in the competition. They’ve also recruited pretty well this year as well, and adding Mickey Higham could prove to be a shrewd move by adding more threat around the ruck which in turn could free up more space out wide. Carvell should add some bite to the pack and will be looking to force his way back into international contention.More potential threat from the pack means a more stable platform for the backs.
Cons: It seems that every new season now begins with the question “Is this Warrington’s year?”. As serial underachievers, any upgrades and potential for this season is reflexively taken with a grain of salt, which is a shame. Last season their biggest problem was definitely their defence (they conceded more points than any other playoff side last year, and indeed more that Castleford did in finishing bottom) which definitely needs to have been sorted out in the off-season. There’s no point scoring a ton of points if you’re going to concede even more. Monaghan and King were both disappointments last season, and really need to go out of their way to prove that they aren’t wastes of money.
Coach: Jimmy Lowes has his first full season with the Wolves and needs to show that he’s got what it takes to coach at this level. He’s made an intelligent first plunge into the transfer market. Now we get to see if he’s used the preseason to plug the holes in the Warrington defensive line and to make sure Warrington have their heads in the game right from the start.
Captain: Adrian Morley takes over this season from Lee Briers.
Key Man: I assume the captaincy was taken from Briers to take away any extra pressure, because the success of the Wolves tends to depend on his play. Briers’ sometimes erratic play almost encapsulates Warrington’s play in general: when he’s on form he can be devastating, but when he’s off-form it all seems to collapse around him. Ergo, if he’s consistently brilliant this season then Warrington are far more likely to be challenging for honours.
Young ‘un: Ben Harrison was part of the Ireland squad that seemingly over-achieved at the World Cup, and will be hoping to make an impact on Super League this year. Having made 16 appearances in each of his first two seasons, now is the year that Harrison needs to turn himself into a mainstay of the Wolves pack.
Wild Card: Two years ago Kevin Penny burst onto the Super League stage and left us hailing the coming of the next Offiah. Last season was something of a reality check for Penny, with inopportune mistakes often taking attention away from his still razor-sharp attacking ability (Penny’s try in the Challenge Cup against Saints was my favourite of the season, but was followed up with a basic error that gifted Saints a score). Warrington need to find a way of getting Penny’s defence up to speed whilst still keeping his attacking prowess.
Gains: Garreth Carvell, Micky Higham
Two quality players coming in. Carvell should add some much needed bite to the pack, and Higham will be hoping to profit by causing mayhem around the ruck.
Losses: Mark Gleeson, Rob Parker, Andy Bracek
The Wolves have lost some effective bit-part players here, but it’s hard to argue that the players they have brought in aren’t an upgrade.