Phew. I just need to get my breath back…
That was one of the most intense, physical regular season games I have seen for quite some time. After Wigan pounded away at the Wire line to the point where Warrington didn’t touch the ball for the first tenth of the game, the Wolves regained some composure and began to get a head of steam in the middle of the park where their forwards dominated for much of the night (despite Wigan doing their very best to give as good as they got). In the end this domination down the middle led to openings for Lee Briers, and even though they kept messing up the cross-field kick from midfield (they kept trying this last week as well) they eventually clawed their way back into the game, and tries from Matt King (a cross-field kick into the in-goal), a beauty of a handling movement putting in Chris Riley, and a solo effort from Michael Monaghan proved to be more than enough against a tiring Warriors side, especially as it was backed up by an absolute beasting of a defensive effort.
I am blown away by what Tony Smith has done at Warrington in such a short span of time. How is this the same time whom I was watching concede 60 points to Harlequins just a few months ago? A blip against Hull KR aside, their defence has changed from ultra-flaky to rock solid, and with their attacking effort still being dangerous (and seemingly less reckless) they’re back on track up the table. Adrian Morley and Gareth Carvell are clearly one of the best propping duos in the league, and they’re now firing and are also ably supported by the likes of Ben Harrison, Ben Westwood and the Anderson brothers. The platform they are laying is at last being exploited by both Lee Briers and Michael Monaghan (who seemed to play much better once he seemed to get concussed). I’m wary of saying it because we’ve been here before, but it’s looking like Warrington are getting their act together.
Of course, it takes two to tango and Wigan played their part in making this an enthralling game. I was a bit wary of the fact that they only came out of opening the game with eight straight minutes of possession with only a six point lead, but they came close on two other occasions. What really let them down was their forward pack – Stuart Fielden and Andy Coley have been immense during Wigan’s renaissance in the last few weeks but they were simply muscled out of the game. Although I thought Sam Tomkins and Thomas Leuluai both had pretty good games (for a second I thought Tomkins had pulled off a miracle tackle to deny Monaghan, and he wasn’t far off doing it) they simply lacked the attacking spark that had driven their re-emergence as contenders. If Wigan want to crack the top eight, then they need to find it again, and fast.
You know what the most extraordinary thing about the game was? It was two teams going at each other full-throttle for eighty minutes who aren’t even in the top eight! Admittedly it’s a surprise that these two sides aren’t in the playoffs at this stage, but this is exactly what Super League needs: two sides trying to destroy each other in pursuit of the extended season, playing at maximum intensity in front of a pumped-up crowd (kudos to those at the Halliwell Jones – you definitely played your part in an enthralling spectacle). If teams in the middle of the pack can play like this, just how good should it be when the top teams play each other? I don’t think Warrington will be outside of the playoffs for too much longer, and I’m not yet ruling out Wigan getting there either.