Archive for the ‘Warrington Wolves’ Category

Season Review: Warrington Wolves

September 16, 2009

warringtonPoints 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.

(more…)

Advertisements

Challenge Cup Final 2009: A Photo Essay

August 30, 2009

090829_142940

In the end, it wasn’t as close or as tight as I thought it would be. It certainly wasn’t as good as I thought it would be. Everything about the day was enjoyable, except for the second half when it became abundantly clear that the Huddersfield Giants simply didn’t have what it took to beat a Warrington Wolves side that was a defensive juggernaut on the day. The speed and swarm that Wire possessed in defense turned practically every pass the Giants made into a hospital pass. On top of that, Lee Briers and Michael Monaghan played a vital role in producing one of the Wolves’ most composed performances of the year, and with about twenty minutes to go it became quite clear that the Wolves were entering shutdown mode, a move they played almost to perfection. 

It was a frantic start to the game as Brett Hodgson’s kick was charged down by Louis Anderson, which led to Richie Mathers opening the scoring. From the stands it seemed like Louis had knocked on in the process of picking up the ball, but looking at the TV replay it seems it was either his toe or a funny bounce that made it look that way. The Giants hit back when Shaun Lunt finished off a rather nice team move, but only after he had been denied by the video ref in one of a few calls that the people I was sitting with in the stadium thought were dubious (and the replay ddin’t make think it was any better of a call either). 

Warrington replying with two quick tries to Michael Monaghan and Chris Hicks, followed by the second disallowed try that the Giants thought they had scored (David Hodson’s finish wiped off due to obstruction) seemed to kill off the game for me. From that point onwards Huddersfield fell apart. The second half in particular saw them drop an outrageous amount of ball in key positions early in the tackle count. It’s debatable how much this even mattered though because whenever the Giants did hold onto the ball, all they did was run sideways and pass to a stationary man. This made it easier for a Warrington side who had brought their A-game defensively anyway, and meant that the second half turned into a rather dour battle. Warrington had shown touches of invention and class in the first half but (understandably) resorted to a more conservative gameplan in the second half. Although Vinnie Anderson and David Hodgson both got on the scoresheet, the second half was clearly never going to turn into a shootout, and as it became clear that the Giants didn’t have what it took it undermined the drama somewhat.

Were Huddersfield affected by the debatable video ref calls? Maybe. If they were, then it’s their own fault they lost because they should have just got on with it. I was really disappointed by the Giants because they’ve been a top team all year, and for them to flop so hard on the biggest stage yet was disappointing. Even so, they’re still top contenders to reach Old Trafford at this stage, so hopefully for them they’ll learn from this experience. 

Conversely, Warrington were a revelation. I knew they could muscle up as well as anyone, and I knew they were capable of fantastic attacking play, but I never expected them to be so… solid. Apart from Lunt’s two scoring attempts, they never really looked fazed at all, and they followed up conceding with two quick-fire tries. Their defence was brutal and completely choked Hudderfield out of the game. Even if Warrington don’t make the playoffs (and at this stage it looks unlikely) they’ve still won a trophy, and definitely have the foundations to be a challenger next year.

Like for Friday’s game, I took some photos with my camera phone. In fact, I took a lot of photos. See them after the break, and admire the story that they create.

(more…)

Welcome Back, Brian

June 2, 2009

 

Guess whos back... (Getty Images)

Guess who's back... (Getty Images)

Yet again, news I can’t say I was expecting: Brian Carney has signed for Warrington. Carney had been playing Rugby Union for Munster since 2007, although he had been making regular appearances on Sky’s Super League coverage. Carney will join once his commitments to Munster are over this month. 

There are more than a few question marks about Carney’s return to League. For one thing, he left under curious circumstances in 2007, what with that whole retiring-then-playing-union thing. Added to that is the fact that he wasn’t exactly setting the RU world alight, and that he’s 32, and you have to wonder if he’s going to be up to the task. My guess is that the work for Sky got him hungry for the game again. 

There’s also the curiosity as to where the Wolves are coming with this move. For one thing, they’ve released Kevin Penny, and the wingers they have left have been playing pretty well (and Chris Hicks is still to come back). I can only assume that they believe Carney’s still got the magic and that they could do with his experience. I hope they’re right, because when he’s at full pelt there are few more fun players to watch. This should be interesting…

Warrington Begin to Roar Again

May 30, 2009

 

Things suddenly look a lot better for Adrian Morley & co.

Things suddenly look a lot better for Adrian Morley & co.

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.

(more…)

Warrington Wolves 16 – 8 Wigan Warriors

May 22, 2009

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.

Stuart Reardon to Hull FC

April 14, 2009

Shirt now out of date (The Sun)

Another thing that I didn’t get around to covering last week was Warrington’s release of Stuart Reardon. As we all know, Reardon has his fair share of personal problems right now, and with an extensive injury problem added to that, I could see why the Wolves would see that as too much excess baggage to carry. Apparently, Hull FC don’t feel the same way, because they’ve signed up the newly-available Reardon.

This strikes me as an odd move on Hull’s part. I assume that Reardon has communicated to them that he’s confident of avoiding a custodial sentence in his upcoming sentencing, because otherwise the Airlie Birds have just signed a player whom they are going to lose almost straight away.On top of that, there’s the fact that Reardon has been a walking (limping?) injury for the most part of his tenure at Wire, which makes him an odd recruit for a side as ruined by injuries in the recent past as Hull. Still, if they get him patched up and ready to play he could be an interesting addition to the Black and Whites’ backline. I assume he is supposed to be a replacement for Todd Byrne, who has left the club by mutual consent after a season-ending injury.

I assume Reardon is doing this because he wants to keep his mind off of unwanted distractions. It’s also quite obvious at this point he and Warrington was a relationship that just wasn’t meant to be, and he’ll be looking to reinvigorate his career on Humberside (it’s easy to forget that he was an international quality back a few seasons ago). Whether he’s able to or if the courts put his career on hiatus for him remains to be seen…

The Great Martin Gleeson Saga

April 14, 2009

In having a week from hell, I’ve been unable until now to write about one of the most intriguing stories to emerge this season: Martin Gleeson transferring from Warrington to Wigan. It’s an interesting move in many regards, and I’m still trying to work out who benefits most from this move.

With a lot of the talk around Gleeson, you would think he was finished as a player. This is far from the case: even in the horrific massacre at Quins, Gleeson was by far and away the most potent attacking weapon that the Wolves had. He was one of the few England players at the world cup who seemed to come out of it with any stock left, even impressing somewhat when forced out of position at Stand-Off against the Kiwis in the final group game. He’s still probably a 1st choice centre for the England team, although he’s finally coming under some pressure from the likes of Michael Shenton. There’s little doubt in my mind that Gleeson is a player still with a lot to offer.

(more…)

Quins Humiliate Warrington

March 14, 2009

Boy, I did not see that one coming. 

Harlequins today showed Tony Smith the true extent of the task ahead of him by destroying Warrington Wolves 60-8. It started off fairly competitively, with Luke Dorn and Danny Ward tries being cancelled out by Vinnie Anderson and Paul Rauhihi tries for Wire. Then it suddenly changed as Quins scored eight unanswered tries. Danny Orr rubbed salt into the Wolves’ wounds by kicking a perfect 10 from 10 conversions. All in all, it was a very impressive showing from Quins and a very worrying display if you’re a Wolves fan.

The most obvious deficiency at Warrington is their defence, and they let in some extremely soft tries (for Luke Dorn’s opening try I don’t actually think he was touched by an attempted tackle). Particularly they seemed vulnerable out wide and to a clever Quins kicking game. However, they’re also inflicting a lot of problems upon themselves with woeful ball control, and if they keep dropping the ball like that then they’re not going to win many games. WHat was worse though was that they seemed to lack a cutting edge which I found surprising as that’s basically what’s carried Wire over the last few seasons. Lee Briers, Michael Monaghan and Jon Clarke were basically bystanders for the whole game, and after their early tries they didn’t even come close to looking threatening. Stuttering attack and flawed defence does not a good team make, and Smith really needs to get his thinking cap on. 

But of course to dwell on this is to ignore the fact that Harlequins are most definitely a good team, and a side not to be taken lightly. Will Sharp has been a revelation so far this season, and I think he’ll be catching the eye of Smith for an international space. Danny Orr could also be coming into the international mix if he keeps up his form. Luke Dorn must wonder why he ever left London, as he scores tries for fun in the Capital. Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook is increasing his stature in the eyes of Quins’ supporters from ‘cult hero’ to ‘full-on deity’. Most importantly of all, they are extremely well coached and they gel into an ultra-efficient unit that’s also able to dish out the razzmatazz as well. I don’t think they’re title challengers yet, but they’re certainly in the playoff mix and if they keep this up, then who knows?

There was also probably the best sequence of play that I’ve seen in my all-too-few visits to the Quins / Broncos, as Tony Clubb (whom, I think I’ve mentioned this before, was looking fairly mediocre on loan at Skolars just over a year ago) unleashed a shoulder-charge from the depths of Hades that completely rocked a Warrington player, and as this was the final tackle the WOlves put in a pretty mediocre chip towards the in-goal… which Chris Melling proceeded to return to the opposite side of the pitch for the most entertaining try of the day. Warrington have to go back to the drawing board, because if it’s reached a stage where the Quins fans can basically take the piss, then there’s not much lower you can go.

Tony Smith to Warrington

March 6, 2009
Tony Smith, wondering just how hes going to turn this one around

Tony Smith, wondering just how he's going to turn this one around (Getty Images)

 

I know I’m way late on this (work is such a hassle sometimes) but you can’t really avoid commenting on this. Tony Smith, England Coach, has been appointed as Warrington’s Head of Coaching and Performance. James Lowes is staying on as 1st Team Coach. In doing this, Smith now has had to step down as Technical Director of the RFL, although he is remaining on as England Coach in a part-time capacity.

I can’t say I’m all that surprised by the announcement. There are many reasons I could imagine that Smith would want to take up such a challenge:

  1. Warrington are still a club with a decent core of very talented players, and it’s quite obvious that they have under-achieved. Smith probably thinks he’ll have a few fun toys to play with at the Wolves
  2. I would suspect that Smith might be missing the more hands-on nature of Club management
  3. He badly under-achieved with England at the World Cup and is looking for an outlet to prove that he’s still a more-than-capable coach
  4. He’s guaranteed himself some work after the Four Nations

There are also a fair few reasons why this move makes very good sense for the Wolves:

  1. ‘Under-achieve’ doesn’t do justice to what has happened to the Wolves so far this season. Their swings from ‘good’ to ‘very bad’ even within the same game has been alarming to say the least. James Lowes hasn’t been instilling confidence and they need to stop the rot as soon as possible
  2. Tony Smith is a coach with a proven track record in Super League. Apart from one season where his Huddersfield side got relegated (and to be fair to Smith, they would have been relegated long before he took charge if they hadn’t been saved by bureaucracy) he’s basically succeeded with every side he’s coached. 
  3. Connected to point 2, he’s one of the key forces that turned Leeds from under-achievers to the dominant force in Super League, something I imagine the Warrington board may have noticed and may relate to.

Really, the big losers here appear to be the RFL, who now no longer have a Technical Director, and have an England Coach who’s not fully committed to the job and has vested interests outside of the team. It adds another layer of intrigue to the Four Nations, and I hope that for Smith’s sake he manages to get success with at least one of his two sides now. This could prove to be exactly the remedy that Warrington needed.

Monday Musings: Worrying Trends Developing at Wigan and Wire

February 23, 2009

After two weeks of Super League (three for some teams) you tend to notice some patterns emerging. No respectable scientist would ever dream of trying to make sweeping judgements based on a data sample of two, but I’m not close to being a respectable scientist and some things appear to be making themselves known at this stage in the season:

  • Reports of Saints’ demise have been greatly exaggerated
  • Leeds have been winning without getting out of second gear
  • The pool of sides fighting out for playoff spots is getting very large, with both Hull sides, Castleford, Wakefield, Huddersfield and Harlequins amongst the sides seeming stronger than last season
  • Wigan and Warrington have both been losing games they really should win

This last point is worrying for both Wigan and Warrinton not just because they have lost all their games so far (only Celtic Crusaders join them at the bottom with zero points) but because of the way in which they have lost. Each case is different, yet both point to flaws which need to be addressed sooner rather than later if this season is to be a success for either of them.

For Wigan, the problem has been losing games against sides that finished below them in the table last season (none of the three sides they have played so far made the playoffs last year) by close margins (their largest margin of defeat so far is eight points). It’s hard to grasp entirely why this is: they have a successful coach and a fair number of decent players. For some reason this season they’ve let in a fair amount of soft tries which ultimately have cost them close games. They’ve also failed to inspire in attack and you have to wonder why they feel the need to bring in so many imports if they’re not going to deliver. Add to this that Wigan’s history makes this probably the most high-pressure coaching job in Super League and you have to think that Brian Noble should be concerned right now. He’s already said that this competition is won in October, not February but you have to be in the playoffs to reach October and at this rate it’s very much a possibility that won’t happen.

For Wire, the problems are even harder to fathom, because for the past two weeks they’ve let a comfortable lead not only slip away in the second half, but get positively blown out of the water. It’s hard to remember a side who have looked so good in the first half before looking so bad in the second, and the Wolves have managed it for the past two weeks running. The fact that they have done so both times in front of the Sky Sports cameras will do James Lowes no favours, who now has to solve the mystery of how his side keep imploding. Second half drop-offs are usually a sign of poor fitness, but in both cases the rot set in at the start of the second half, right after players have had a chance to get their breath back. It all indicates a lack of mental toughness, because in both the last few weeks the Wolves haven’t looked remotely like getting back into once things start going against them.

As far as I’m concerned, this isn’t a good thing. Both Leeds and Saints are far too far ahead of the competition right now, and Wigan and Warrington appeared to be amongst their challengers. If no side steps up this season, we could be left with the third Leeds-Saints Grand Final in a row, and as good as last year’s match was it would be nice to have a change. Both Warrington and Wigan have the chance this week to make amends against sides they should theoretically beat, with Wire away at Wakefield and Wigan away at Quins. Both sides have been losing to sides they should theoretically beat all season, and doing so in the two televised games this weekend could lead to a major upheaval at either club. If either club wants to prove that they’re still worthy of being deemed title contenders, they’ve got the right stage to prove it.

Crystal Ball-watch

Between them, Wigan and Wire have cost me four extra victories in my predictions (I correctly guessed Wire’s implosion against Saints) and it’s their underachievent that’s kept me under fifty percent. The other side to cost me this week were Huddersfield Giants, who fell back down to earth against a resiliant St Helens.  Also frustrating was getting close to the Leeds and Wakefield victory margins. I wish my Quins-Manly prediction was official, because that really wasn’t that far off the reality.

Results: 7/15 (46.7%)

Margins: 1/15 (6.7%)