Cest Magnifique! Wolves Go Top Of The Table
Warrington Wolves 24 Catalan Dragons 16
Match Fact: Micky Higham has now made 100 appearances in primrose and blue.
By Alan Domville (Photo courtesy of Neil Ashurst)
Warrington are back at the top of Super League after a tough and, at times, brutal clash with the previously unbeaten and joint leaders, Catalan Dragons.
This was an arm wrestle for most of the time and the game erupted towards the end when home frustrations over the visitors' persistent slowing down tactics saw the Dragons full back Brent Webb given a yellow card for the second time in the match and Ben Westwood also sent into the sin bin.
Earlier, Leon Pryce had been placed on report after he appeared to take a swing at Richie Myler.
Joel Monaghan scored two first half tries and Myler one to give Warrington a healthy 16 point advantage and the home line remained intact until two minutes from the interval when Damien Blanch scored the first of his two tries.
The gap between the sides closed to a nerve tingling four points when Blanch scored again and what turned out to the game breaker came on 56 minutes when a determined Rhys Evans just managed to touch down just inches from the dead ball line.
Catalan weren't done, however, and proved a threat all the way to the end, Zeb Taia going in at the corner with three minutes left.
Tony Smith was unable to call on Ben Harrison who had undergone a hernia operation two days earlier while Stefan Ratchford took over from Lee Briers at stand-off. Micky Higham came off the bench to make his 100th appearance for the club since signing four years ago while Garreth Carvell was making his 300th career appearance.
Catalan head coach Laurent Frayssinous was forced to make one change to the side that beat Salford last week, Julian Bousquet having been suspended after a misdemeanour. Jamal Fakir took his place and Michael Simon came in as a substitute. Unavailable were Scott Dureau, recovering from an eye operation, and the injured Gregory Mounis.
Included in the visitors line-up were former Wolves favourite Louis Anderson and three new signings - Webb from Leeds, Olivier Elima from Bradford and Zeb Taia from Newcastle Knights.
Warrington were first to attack the line but the ball went forward and to ground in front of Chris Riley; the Wolves winger showed great pluck throughout the game taking the ball up and cutting through the defence on several occasions.
But Wolves suffered an early blow when Adrian Morley had to leave the field with an arm injury.
Catalans' first raid came after the ball was swept to the left but the danger was averted when Darryl Millard's attempted kick ahead went directly into touch.
A penalty put Wolves deep into French territory and Joel Monaghan forced his way over in the corner. Hodgson's difficult kick from the touchline hit the upright but bounced the right way to make it 6-0.
Soon afterwards Chris Hill was lifted high off the ground; the first indication of what was to follow. Myler appeared to be felled by Pryce; a kind of revenge came soon afterwards when the Dragons half back kicked towards the Wolves line and Myler diffused the danger by collecting the ball in heavy traffic.
Warrington then turned on the style with a brilliant passing movement but the sequence ended with Riley being tackled into touch just short of the line.
Referee Richard Silverwod ruled the ball had been deflected out of play by one of the Catalan defenders and from the restart Joel Monaghan went over again. Silverwood went upstairs to Ian Smith for a second opinion but the video referee was happy with the score. Hodgson failed with his kick but it was 10-0.
Wolves went straight back on the attack with Riley taking the ball up from the back. Trent Waterhouse, later named as the game sponsors as the man of the match, sent Myler galloping towards the posts. Hodgson goaled and now the lead was 16.
A lovely interception by Ryan Atkins on his own 20 metre mark looked like putting the Wolves further ahead but he was hauled down inches from the line.
Delaying tactics by Catalan were infuriating the home crowd and Silverwood also lost his patience when Webb prevented Riley from playing the ball and sent the full back into the sin bin.
The Warrington line finally fell close to half time when Blanch crossed. Thomas Bosc converted and it was "game on" once again.
In the first attack of the second period Rhys Evans broke the line but the chance was lost with a forward pass to Myler.
A Warrington knock on set up the Dragons near the home line and Blanch went in for his second try. Bosc added the extras and now it was 16-12 with half an hour left.
Nerves were settled six minutes later when Myler put in a lovely kick to the line and the pursuing Evans just managed to touch down with inches to spare before the dead ball line. Hodgson goaled to give the Wolves some breathing space.
But the pressure was still on and the visitors were denied a try on their left hand corner by Ian Smith.
Matters had been simmering for some time and came to a head when Elima appeared to come in hard on Evans; seconds later Elima, Remi Casty and Higham were spoken to by the referee.
Then, as Warrington were attacking the line, Westwood appeared to be provoked. Silverwood sent both him and Webb to the bin with eight minutes remaining.
Wolves were given the penalty and Hodgson made no mistake.
Catalan came back strongly, winning the ball from the restart and earning a penalty and six more tackles.
Taia breached the home defence in the 77th minute but Bosc couldn't convert. There was still time for another penalty award against the French but Hodgson was off target from 36 metres.
Ill tempered at times, this was not the classic we saw last week at Wigan but Wolves had resisted everything that was thrown at them and fully deserved to go to the top of the table, at least temporarily.
Wolves' head of coaching and rugby Tony Smith said: "It was horribly messy. It spoilt what could have been a really good game, the lack of control. We got dragged into it as well, I'm not saying it was a one-way affair.
"It's not the conditions at the moment to play classic rugby league but it was good, tough footy for many parts of it. They are a good team and are playing with confidence. We reined our horns in a little bit there tonight. We wanted to control things a bit better and not make so many errors, at this time of year that's hard for us to do, but I thought we did a bit whilst still conceding a few too many points. The importance of giving penalties away was there, I think just about every try tonight was scored directly after a penalty, we've got to learn our way there.
"I'm pleased that we were able to tough out a game there tonight. I thought we controlled a lot of it, not entirely and they had their say, but I thought they were always going to as they came into the game very confident. They'd had two very good performances themselves, we're still working our way into the comp and will get stronger and better as the year goes on."
Brett Hodgson, Chris Riley, Rhys Evans, Ryan Atkins, Joel Monaghan, Stefan Ratchford, Richie Myler, Adrian Morley, Michael Monaghan, Chris Hill, Trent Waterhouse, Ben Westwood, Simon Grix
Subs: Garreth Carvell, Micky Higham, Paul Wood, Mike Cooper
Tries: J Monaghan (2), Myler, Evans
Goals: Hodgson (4)
Brent Webb, Damien Blanch, Steve Menzies, Vincent Duport, Daryl Millard, Leon Pryce, Thomas Bosc, Jamal Fakir, Ian Henderson, Remi Casty, Seb Taia, Louis Anderson, Jason Baitieri
Subs: Eloi Pelissier, Kevin Larroyer, Olivier Elima, Mickael Simon
Tries: Blanch (2), Taia
Goals: Bosc (2)
Half Time: 16-6
Game Picture Gallery (courtesy of Bob Brough)
16, Feb, 2013