In March, I went to see Harlequins play Warrington Wolves. Wire had recently announced that Tony Smith would be coming on board to turn around a poor start to the season which had seen them lose their opening three games. Although he failed to get them a win against his former club Leeds, he had got them to produced a commendable enough performance that it looked like he as going to get Warrington back on track, and I thought I was going to see a very competitive game at the Stoop.
Well, I was extremely wrong that day. The final score was Harlequins 60 Warrington 8, and I wondered just what had Smith let himself in for. Warrington looked disinterested, out-muscled, adn they gave up far too easily in defence. It looked like they were in for a long season. Yet today, they are up against Hull KR in the quarter-finals of the Challenge Cup, and are currently in the middle of a rich vein of form in Super League, where they are currently perched just outside the top eight. In the space of a few months, their season doesn’t look like such a write-off after all.
So, how has Smith produced this turnaround? Well, let’s have a look at some numbers. Here are some statistics from Warrington’s first three games of the season, before the arrival of Smith was announced:
- Points Scored: 56 (18.7 per game)
- Points Conceded: 114 (38 per game)
- Tries Scored: 9 (3 per game)
- Tries Conceded: 21 (7 per game)
The stat that really jumps out at me is the tries conceded. Just how do you concede seven tries per game on average without realizing there must be a flaw in the system? Obviously Smith is an adept enough coach to have noticed this, because in the eleven games since his arrival the numbers have begun to change:
- Points Scored: 255 (23.1 per game)
- Points Conceded: 260 (23.6 per game)
- Tries Scored: 48 (4.4 per game)
- Tries Conceded: 43 (3.9 per game)
As you can see, there has been a massive improvement in the results that the Wolves are getting defensively. What’s worth pointing out with these numbers is that they are somewhat skewered by Smith’s first two games in charge before he had a chance to implement his systems. The second game after his arrival was the 60-8 mauling at Harlequins, a result which really skewers a lot of the numbers. Since Smith’s arrival, Warrington have only conceded five or more tries on three occasions (at Quins, away at Cas and in the Magic game against Hull KR) and they lost all of those games. Since a very mediocre Easter tehy’ve been on fire, only conceding more than 22 points on one occasion (the KR game). It appears that when Wire get their act together defensively (as they did against Wigan) they’re a very hard team to beat.
But beyond simple statistics, it’s also visible that Warrington are a lot tougher than they were early in the season. Their first three games were all televised live, so we all got to see what could only really be described as pathetic collapses where they pretty much hoisted the white flag at the first sign of trouble. Compare this with their last two games (where they overcame some stupid mistakes in the first half against Hull FC and going without touching the ball for the opening eight minutes against Wigan) and the transition is remarkable. There’s no way this side would have conceded sixty points to Harlequins.
Smith made a bold move giving away Martin Gleeson to Wigan, but it definitely appears to have worked. Firstly, it was a clear warning to the rest of the team that Smith wasn’t going to be bowing down to reputation, and even though Gleeson had actually been one of their sharper attacking threats in the opening portion of the season, Smith still felt that he could get it working without him (it’s move that I think has worked for all parties, as Gleeson looks invigorated at Wigan). It also helps that Chris Bridge has more than compensated at centre now, and with Lee Briers and Michael Monaghan taking advantage of a fully firing pack (their starting front row is among the best in the League), their go-forward is starting to click as well.
The Wolves managed to get themselves in such a hole at the start of the season that they are still currently outside of the playoff positions despite their upturn, but they are definitely heading in the right direction and if they keep up this form then they should force their way into the top eight (I suspect a top-four finish is beyond them now). I think Warrington have their fans back on their side again, who will no doubt be hoping that Smith can continue with his good work so far and manage to do what has evaded many a coach to this point: bring some silverware back to Wire.