Posts Tagged ‘Warrington Wolves’

Challenge Cup Final 2009: A Photo Essay

August 30, 2009

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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.

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Challenge Cup Final Preview

August 29, 2009

Did you this is the first final of the Super League era that doesn’t feature one of the Big Four sides? Did you know that this is the first Challenge Cup final sinct 1986 that doesn’t feature either Wigan, St Helens, Leeds or Bradford. We get a game between the Warrington Wolves and the Huddersfield Giants, two sides who have been producing minor classics on their run to Wembley. This has the makings of a very interesting game, with intriguing matchups all over the pitch.

Forwards: Probably the most intriguing matchup of all is a very tasty clash in the middle of the park between two heavyweight packs. Warrington bring the boom big-style with a cannonball front row of Gareth Carvell and Adrian Morley (who has been heroic on the run to Wembley) backed up by a solid back row of Westwood, Louis Anderson and Ben Harrison who has come into his own this season. The Giants have a less big-name pack but their props are all solid units (I’m really hoping for a Morley – Eorl Crabtree encounter) and if anything their back row is even more dynamic (Stephen Wild needs more recognition). 

Backs: The Giants’ backs are underrated, and Bret Hodgson is clearly the best full back in Super League. Their young players like Leroy Cudjoe have really made an impact this year, and they have canny experience in Paul Whatuira anchoring the backline. The Warrington backline is somewhat of an enigma, running either really hot or really cold (often in the same game). They have clicked fairly often in this competition, though. 

Brains: At last, Lee Briers gets to play at Wembley. Will he excel on the big stage? The key for Warrington will be making sure he doesn’t have to do it all himself. Vinnie Anderson has been named at stand-off but I suspect he’ll alternate with Chris Bridge. Michael Monaghan appears to have found his groove at hooker and I imagine Mickey Higham will have his say off the bench. The Giants have been controlled adeptly by Luke Robinson  and Kevin Brown all year, and Hodson has added a completely new dimension to their attack from the back. 

Form: Both sides have lost their last two games. However, the Giants’ last defeat was essentially a second team narrowly losing at Saints, which is a sort of moral victory. Warrington have seemed deflated in the last two weeks, but it’s possible that they’ve been saving themselves. 

So, who’s going to win? I feel everything favours Huddersfield and I think they should win. But of course no one really knows what’s going to happen on the day and I have this nagging feeling about Wire. I do think that this should be a cracking game and I’m looking forward to it immensely.

Up For The Cup

August 8, 2009

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Is it just me, or does the Challenge Cup semis feel more important this year? It certainly helps that we have two very compelling matchups this year and that there have been many good games this year (including a fantastic double header in the last round). It also helps that all of the four clubs left in the competition are bringing their own intiguing storyline to the competition.

Part of the interest is because the Cup has gone a long way to saving two seasons. For both Warrington and Wigan, the Cup has gone a long way to restoring their years, after both clubs began the year with appalling runs in Super League. Both sides have now turned it around and are pushing for playoff places. Both clubs also had fantastic performances in the Cup earlier this season (Wigan at Wakefield in the Fifth Round, Warrington at Hull KR in the Quarter Finals) that went a long way to showing that these sides have the character for a scrap. It’s interesting that they are playing each other, because these two sides who started off so below expectations now have the chance to make their season against each other.

For the Giants, the winning the Cup would go some way to legitimising their contendership. It’s well known that they have made massive strides this year, and they are currently in third place and keeping the pressure on Leeds in 2nd. Even so, very few people have been talking about them actually making a run in the playoffs and winning Super League. A Challenge Cup victory would show their aptitude for knock-out football and their mettle for big games with trophies at stake, and make them an even more interesting proposition in the playoffs.

For Saints, it’s about keeping up a tradition of victory. Since the start of the Super League era Saints have become the pre-eminent club, and a large part of that is down to their dominance of the Challenge Cup. In particular they have won the last three Finals, and are establishing a new equivalent to the great Wigan run in the late 80s / early 90s. However they have seemed more vulnerable of late, and it is clear that some of their more established names are approaching the end. Saints are the big favourites for this, and they need this win to show that they deserve this attention, and for their big names to show they’ve still got it.

Whoever wins today and tomorrow, I’m just glad that there’s so much attention back on this competition. I just hope the games live up to expectation and set up a fantastic Wembley final. Because this is the only live domestic Rugby League on the BBC, the Challenge Cup serves as a showcase for the sport. When the games are of such high quality and drama, it looks good for the game. So let’s hope the four teams and the three games left do the sport proud.

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…

Hull KR 24 – 25 Warrington

June 1, 2009

For perhaps the first time this season, a post I had written praising a team turned out not to be a curse. It is testament to the resolve of this Warrington side that they managed to overcome both a 10 point deficit and the curse of my praise to come out as victors in a pulsating Challenge Cup clash against Hull KR that was compulsive viewing from start to finish. 

This was a Cup game that had it all: a boisterous crowd,two teams giving it their all, excellent tries and attacking play, rampaging forward play, controversy at the death and a sudden-death finish. Both teams took it in turns to show their stuff and they did not disappoint. When Hull KR pulled ten points clear, I thought that would be too much for Warrington to deal with, but they came back strongly and had they not conceded a late penalty they could’ve won in normal time. 

Warrington essentially won this game because of a greater sense of composure. They worked some nice plays around the ruck and a few out wide, and their forward pack got better and better as the game went on. Special props (excuse the pun) for Adrian Morley, who is playing as well as I’ve seen him for a long time at the minute. He and Gareth Carvell put Lee Briers’ drop-goal opportunities on a plate for him with their surging runs (it was noticeable just how many more chances to win Warrington had in extra time; Briers missed two before he scored, whilst Paul Cooke only had the one effort charged down). 

Warrington seem to start slowly at the minute, but once they get going they’re hard to stop. Morley and Carvell were immense all day (every time Morley got flattened by Makali Aizue, he got straight back up got back down to business). Briers is also back in form and crucially doesn’t appear to be trying to do everything himself. I also feel that Matt King is deserving of a special mention; he’s had his critics over the past eighteen months (and with good reason) but he had an excellent workrate, was threatening off of kicks all game, set up Jon Clarke’s try with a great pass (which was not forward – that was the momentum rule in effect) and scored a potentially messy finish with aplomb. At long last, he might just be finding his feet.

Bt also credit to Hull KR, who were great for most of the game except for their faltering towards the end. They scored some beauties (especially Jake Webster’s rounding off of a fab team effort). Even in defeat they looked good, and are now clearly established as a top side. I’m thinking that Shaun Briscoe might just be finding himself in an England shirt at some point this season. In the end, what really cost KR this game was a lack of composure at the death. However, this is the sort of defeat which will provide a valuable learning expereince ahead of the playoffs.

Alas, for the Robins the Wembley dream is dead. For Wire, it’s more alive than ever. This could be fun…

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.

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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.

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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.