Points For: 649
Points Against: 705
Home Record: W7 L6
Away Record (including Magic weekend): W5 L9
Longest Winning Streak: 3
Longest Losing Streak: 5
Top Points Scorer: Chris Hicks (162)
Top Try Scorer: Chris Hicks (16)
Top Tackler: Ben Westwood (602)
Another side who ‘enjoyed’ a topsy turvy season, Warrington at least captured a very nice consolation prize by winning the Challenge Cup. Like Bradford above them, Warrington were ultimately hampered by a terrible start that saw them lose their first five games. Even then, the arrival of Tony Smith precipitating a revival that ultimately seemed to be undermined by their cup run which led to a case of changed priorities.
Warrington started the season with Jimmy Lowes in charge and coming within about 15 minutes of finally beating St Helens at Knowsley Rd, but they collapsed at the end of the game and this precipitated a terrible run in which saw an emergency call for Tony Smith. Although Smith’s arrival saw an improvement in defeat against Leeds, he still couldn’t stop the season’s absolute nadir: a 60-8 crushing at the hands of Harlequins, which saw the visiting fans getting on their back and leading to Matt King flipping a bird at them. Incredibly, Warrington won their next match against Hull KR and soon enough the Smith Effect was beginning to show.
Through the middle of the season, Warrington were amongst the form teams in the competition, with only a close loss to Hull KR at the Magic Weekend and the surprise loss to Bradford marring this spell. Their cup run during this time was also compelling, the golden point win over Hull KR probably being the best game on TV this year. That Warrington were able to seal the deal was extra sweet, but it ultimately came at the cost of their run for the playoffs, as Warrington’s only win after the semi-finals was their final (essentially meaningless) game against Quins.
Ultimately, what cost Warrington was the same thing that’s cost them for the past few years: their defence. Their total of 705 was only increased upon by the bottom two sides. Their final win against Harlequins sort of summed up the problem in defeat – you shouldn’t expect to win if you concede 34 points, but if any side can get away with it, Wire can. Their attack has been electric at times, although Smith appears to have stopped it looking so haphazard and added more structure. If they can complement this with any semblance of defensive solidarity, then they might be onto something. The problem for Wire is that we’ve been essentially saying the same thing for years.
So Warrington finished the season with a long-coveted trophy, but they also finished outside the playoffs. The aim for Smith next season is to maintain a sense of consistency and to take this side to the next level up from being the Great Pretenders. In bringing in Richie Myler, Ryan Atkins and David Solomona, Smith appears to be bringing in a combination of potential future stars and proven performers which could provide the boost the Wolves needed. Of course, the same thing was said about bringing Gareth Carvell and Mickey Higham, and Matt King and Michael Monaghan before them. In other words, if Smith wants to turn Warrington into genuine contenders, he has to do something that no one has managed in the Super League era. If anyone can, I would’ve thought it would be Tony Smith, so we’ll see.