As the clock hit 44 minutes, I began writing an article in my head taking back what I said about Warrington in my predictions. They somehow had gotten themselves 14 points against St Helens, and more impressively they hadn’t conceded any points. In fact, their defence had looked really solid. As well as that, they had completely dominated the middle channel of the pitch, with new signings Gareth Carvell and Mickey Higham seeming like the missing ingredients for a Wolves side for whom attack was never really the problem. They were a little fortuitous with their first try (there’s a case to be made that Louis Anderson blocked the potential tackler from the play-the-ball) but their second try was very pleasing on the eye, crafted from a beautiful offload from Chris Riley ( it was an impressive performance from the winger-cum-fullback) allowing Paul Rauhihi to crash over and give Warrington a three-score advantage. Warrington possessed attacking threat, but most revelatory was their defensive stint, where they worked the man in the tackle repeatedly and limited Leon Pryce’s running game to a bare minimum.
They were winning the territorial battle and they had built an imposing lead. Warrington were looking good. They were looking really good.
Then it all fell apart.
As soon as Lee Gilmour got past Paul Johnson (usually a reliable performer) and sprinted to the line, I began deleting my ‘Warrington: The Real Deal’ tract from my brain. Sure enough,Warrington’s defensive effort began to implode at such a rate that I began to wonder if they were going to form a black hole on the Knowsley Rd pitch. Saints, having been kept scoreless in the first half, proceeded to run in six tries in the second half. What was really noticeable was how five of these six tries came down the wide channels, with only James Graham scoring near the posts. It would be wrong of me to forget to give any of the credit to Saints because they really stepped up a few gears in the second half, and the Gidley / Gardner combination once again looks like it should be pretty fruitful. However it’s hard to get away from the fact that a side who had been playing with such intensity and composure for 45 minutes could suddenly collapse in such a drastic manner (and it seems unlikely to lay the blame on fitness either, since it only took 5-10 minutes from the restart for the rot to set in).
It’s not like Warrington can’t take any positives from this game; Higham and Carvell added impetus to the Wolves’ front-row, and Ben Westwood (when he wasn’t testing the limits of the high-tackle law) had bite and aggression with every charge he made. Even so, it’s hard not to feel that Wire blew it. I can’t recall when I last saw a team look so good for so long in one game and still manage to stink up the place afterwards. Their wide defence really needs attention, because if they don’t mend it then there’s a ready-made gameplan for every other side in this league. More than that though, it seems like a mental thing: as soon as Gilmour scored his try, the body language changed and the Wolves players just didn’t look like they thought they could win. If this side wants to be title challengers, they need to show that it will take more than a silly try to break their spirits.