Westwood scores four as Wolves crush the champions
Warrington Wolves 40 - Leeds Rhinos 20
By Alan Domville (photo courtesy of Neil Ashurst)
Super Bennie Westwood scored four tries as fired-up Warrington showed their determination to reach Old Trafford once again by outclassing the full-strength champions in the glorious sunshine of the Halliwell Jones. Leeds had little idea how to stifle the Wolves who were running hot for all 80 minutes from the kick-off with Lee Briers, so often a tormentor of the Rhinos, giving them a master-class in the tactical kicking game.
His magnificent 40:20 in the second half would prove to be doubly ominous for the visitors given that was also the final score.
Leeds, who had ended our hopes of championship success in each of the last two seasons, were continually confined to their own half - and then kept on the backfoot by a tremendous tackling performance by every player in primrose and blue.
Warrington also came up with so many more attacking options; Simon Grix scored the try of his career so far after rounding Zak Hardaker with a glorious bodyswerve while Briers and Ryan Atkins also registered touchdowns by displaying great opportunism.
Warrington were without Brett Hodgson, who had been originally named by Tony Smith in his 19-man squad but back in action were Ben Harrison and Joel Monaghan who didn't appear in last week's superb victory in Perpignan because of injury concerns. Lee Briers and Trent Waterhouse, who each took a knock during that game and were withdrawn as a precaution, had also been declared fully fit.
Leeds were coming off their win at Wigan that clinched third place in the table and had enjoyed two days extra to prepare for the play-offs. Back in the squad was Ryan Bailey, returning after a one-match suspension.
Leeds knocked on in their second set and in their third a pass intended for Ryan Hall floated harmlessly into touch. And then Wolves struck; on six minutes a neat chip through from Briers enabled Westwood to reach out and touch down. Video referee Phil Bentham was happy the Wolves forward had been on side and gave the try;Stefan Ratchford converted.
Leeds hit back and Rob Burrow was missed in the tackle. His pass to Kallum Watkins saw the centre race over in the corner and Kevin Sinfield added the extras to level the scores. Thereafter Burrow was well watched and although he would do most of the running for the visitors throughout the afternoon his was largely a one-man effort.
Danny Maguire knocked on straight from the restart to give Warrington an opportunity to reply immediately but they were held out despite some speculative passing.
And then Leeds struck again when Ben Jones-Bishop put Sinfield away and the Rhinos' talisman dived over. Kevin's conversion attempt hit the post but his side were 10-6 ahead.
Briers then took exception to a tackle by Carl Ablett who appeared to bring him down by his shirt and a melee ensued; referee James Child put the incident on report.
The tempo suddenly went up a gear and Paul Wood had to leave the field with an arm injury.
But the nerves were settled when Grix began his electrifying midfield run. He backed himself against Hardaker, left him for dead and and dived over beneath the posts.
Ratchford's conversion restored the home lead and Leeds were never in with a shout after that.
Time and again they were restricted to their own half by the fifth tackle and the first of just three dangerous looking efforts during the rest of the half was snuffed out by a splendid interception by Michael Monaghan.
Four minutes from the interval Briers put Westwood away and the second rower was able to scramble over beneath the posts with Ratchford giving him some assistance and two Leeds defenders on top of him. After two and a half minutes of deliberation Phil Bentham gave Bennie the benefit of the doubt. Ratchford collected a knock for his efforts and Briers took the conversion.
There was still time for Leeds to threaten twice more. Chris Riley was able to field Sinfield's kick to the corner and appeared to run it back into play but the touch judge advised otherwise. From that, Burrow triggered another attack but a superb tackle by Garreth Carvell caused them to lose possession.
Ratchford was back on duty to restart the game after the break and Leeds spilled the ball again in the subsequent set.
A Briers kick on the fifth tackle found Joel Monaghan who tapped the ball back to Westwood who couldn't hold the ball with the try line beckoning.
Wolves didn't have to wait too long to re-assert their dominance; Michael Monaghan made a lovely break and sent Bennie racing over for his hat-trick. Ratchford's kick from the touchline was off target but Wolves were now two scores ahead at 22-10.
The Briers 40:20 came next; Michael Monaghan and Mike Cooper each went close. In the next Wolves set a great run by Garreth Carvell kept up the pressure.
The inevitable score came with some terrific opportunism. Close to the sticks, Michael Monaghan sent out a pass inches from the ground which went through Chris Hill's legs. Briers pounced on the loose ball and did a swallow dive over the line, added the goal and it was 28-10 just short of the hour.
Lee lost the ball on a run to the line soon afterwards and at the other end Leeds cheered their huge west stand support when Hardaker was able to race over in the corner. Sinfield's kick went wide and any hopes they had of mounting a comeback faded when Westwood went in for his fourth touchdown. Briers added the goal to make it 34-14 with less than quarter of an hour left.
It was all too late for Leeds when Hardaker raced over for his second try which Sinfield converted and when they lost the ball soon afterwards Ryan Atkins was on hand to kick the loose ball through, follow-up and touch down. Ratchford's kick brought up the 40 to complete a memorable afternoon for the Wolves.
Now Wolves are just 80 minutes from the Theatre of Dreams.
Wolves' head of coaching and rugby Tony Smith said: "It was a good solid performance. Leeds are a better team this year than they were last year; I think they have improved and that's probably been proven by where they came in the regular season. We were probably playing a little bit in fear in terms of we know what they are capable of and you need to produce a good performance against them and fortunately we produced that. They had their say at different stages and I thought Rob Burrow was outstanding in the first half; he was almost untouchable at a few stages. Our players stuck with it. I think we have learnt some valuable lessons in a year; we've been working towards the finals and working towards playing in a certain fashion against some of the dangers that are still within the competition. Today was good but we're going to have another stiff test in a couple of weeks time off someone else."
And on four-try Westwood he added: "He was great; it's great for him to get some of the accolades. He works his cotton socks off every week. I admire him - most people do - they love watching him play. He is rough and tough; he does a lot of the hard work but doesn't always get the spoils. Today he got the spoils as well; he got a bit of the cream and put a cherry on the top. I'm pleased for him. His form has been pretty good."
Stefan Ratchford, Chris Riley, Chris Bridge, Ryan Atkins, Joel Monaghan, Lee Briers, Simon Grix, Chris Hill, Micky Higham, Paul Wood, Trent Waterhouse, Ben Westwood, Ben Harrison
Subs: Adrian Morley, Michael Monaghan, Garreth Carvell, Mike Cooper
Tries: Westwood (4), Grix, Briers, Atkins
Goals: Ratchford (3), Briers (3)
Zak Hardaker, Ben Jones-Bishop, Kallum Watkins, Joel Moon, Ryan Hall, Danny McGuire, Kevin Sinfield, Kylie Leuluai, Rob Burrow, Jamie Peacock, Jamie Jones-Buchanan, Carl Ablett, Ryan Bailey
Subs: Brett Delaney, Brad Singleton, Ian Kirke, Liam Sutcliffe
Tries: Watkins, Sinfield, Hardaker (2)
Goals: Sinfield (2)
Half Time: 18 -10
Full Time: 40 - 20
Game pictures below courtesy of Bob Brough
14, Sep, 2013