Widnes double denies Wolves top spot
Warrington Wolves 6 - Widnes Vikings 16
By Alan Domville (photo courtesy of Neil Ashurst, P&B Pictures)
Warrington lost their opportunity to go top of the Super League table, conceding an unexpected second defeat of the season to Widnes at a rainswept Halliwell Jones that made handling difficult for both sides. Wolves had recorded nine league wins in succession before this game but it just wasn't their night.
And there was high drama two minutes before the interval when skipper Brett Hodgson, leaping high to collect a bomb, was felled on his way down by Hep Cahill. After consultation with his linesmen referee Phil Bentham gave the Widnes loose forward the red card and after extensive treatment on the field Hodgson was stretchered off.
Wolves must finish the regular season with tough assignments at St Helens and Catalan Dragons who are both back in form, and the hope now is that Huddersfield and Wigan also each slip up in their three-match run-in so that Warrington are at home for the opening play-off game.
Mike Cooper was back for Wolves after missing the Wakefield game but Adrian Morley and Lee Briers were still sidelined along with Richie Myler and Ryan Atkins. Garreth Cravell and Ben Currie had been in the pre-match squad of 19. Those on duty after being offered new contracts this week were Chris Riley, Simon Grix, Joel and Michael Monaghan, Paul Wood, Micky Higham and Ben Harrison.
Vikings, who had lost narrowly to Castleford Tigers five days earlier, were without centre Stefan Marsh, Gareth Hock who scored four tries in that game, and ex Warrington forwards Jon Clarke and Steve Pickersgill.
Warrington made 40 metres on their first play and regained possession when Widnes failed to capitalise on a charge-down. But Warrington also failed to make further progress.
Widnes looked threatening on 10 minutes but a high "up and under" was caught beautifully by Hodgson to relieve the pressure.
Warrington went on the attack from a scrum on half way but lost the ball on the sixth tackle by the Widnes posts. The deadlock was broken on 16 minutes after the visitors conceded a penalty and Wolves swept back on the offensive again from 50 metres out. Quick hands enabled Simon Grix to crash over in the corner.
Stefan Ratchford converted from the touchline and it was 6-0. Little did we know that would be the only home score of the night and Warrington would become more and more frustrated.
Soon afterwards, a Hodgson kick to the corner was fielded brilliantly by Joel Monaghan but the Vikings defence held firm.
Some Olympic standard tackling by Warrington kept Widnes at bay but they conceded a goal line drop out after giving away a penalty on the fifth tackle. Widnes came back again and Kevin Brown's kick to the corner enabled Jack Owens to collect and dive over in his corner.
Owens was unable to convert from touch but with nine minutes to half time it was clear this wasn't going to be a romp for Warrington against a side with nothing to play for except pride.
A Ratchford kick towards Joel Monaghan was again diffused by the visitors and some soccer skills by Grix looked likely to create an opportunity but the ball was lost. Then Micky Higham was able to send Cooper over the line but video referee Steve Ganson ruled that the latter had been unable to ground the ball.
Soon after that another chance was lost when Chris Riley collected and made a lovely run around three defenders only for the ball to be subsequently lost yet again with a knock-on.
Phil Joseph was spoken to twice in almost as many minutes by Bentham, the first time for a confrontation in the scrum and then after an altercation with Bennie Westwood.
And then came Cahill's hit on Hodgson after the Warrington full back had again made a brave high level collection as the Widnes players raced towards him.
Hodgson was carried from the field and didn't return; James Laithwaite joined the fray and for the short time before the half time whistle Chris Bridge filled in at full-back.
Ratchford would take over at number one for the second period - and his restart kick was knocked-on by Joe Mellor. Another chance was lost when Tyrone McCarthy was unable to hold the ball.
The forward made up for that with a splendid dash towards the posts; he was able to keep the ball alive in the tackle and then Warrington were given six more - but Chris Bridge was unable to hold the ball following up Michael Monaghan's grubber.
Warrington were penalised 30 metres from their own line and Brown's kick on the last was fumbled, giving Widnes a second chance. A long pass out to the wing saw Patrick Ah Van dive over unopposed. Owens converted to make it 10-6 to the visitors with 25 minutes left.
All of this hadn't been in the script and there was another shock when a kick to the corner enabled Owens to race over for his second try which he also converted.
Warrington immediately hit back but another chance was lost when Riley was unable to take in a speculative overhead but dipping pass.
Widnes, despite having only 12 men, were now in the driving seat but they were unable to add to their score when Owens just failed to land a penalty from half way.
There was more urgency from Warrington in the closing minutes and they came close when Chris Bridge just failed to reach a kick from Joel Monaghan and Widnes survived the next raid from their goal line drop out.
Wolves' head of coaching and rugby Tony Smith said: "We were dreadful with the ball. I was quite pleased with the defensive efforts but we had to do way too much of it...We didn't apply pressure in the conditions tonight and I thought tactically they did, particularly with their kicking game. They made a lot of handling errors as well; they invited us into that game, but I thought their kicking game was terrific compared to ours. They controlled it well.
"It's the way it goes sometimes. We can handle that. We can also applaud Widnes for their efforts. I thought they were very courageous; being a man down they worked really hard, hung in there and put in some good tactical plays at certain times.
"They (Warrington players) were trying hard. If they weren't trying I'd be worried but they tried harder and harder and they got more frustrated with the way they were playing and themselves.
"We handle those kicks in the teeth pretty well. We bounce back and learn a lot from those sorts of days. They are horrible when they happen and I wouldn't like to think we'd have a performance like that again soon."
And on Brett Hodgson: "He's fine. He's got some wear and tear on his nose. It was split, he's got stitches and an L shaped cut which is a bit awkward but he's fine in terms of everything else; he's in good shape, he's got his wits about him."
Brett Hodgson; Chris Riley, Chris Bridge, Simon Grix, Joel Monaghan; Stefan Ratchford, Michael Monaghan; Paul Wood, Micky Higham, Chris Hill, Trent Waterhouse, Ben Westwood, Tyrone McCarthy
Substitutes: James Laithwaite, Brad Dwyer, Ben Harrison, Mike Cooper
Rhys Hanbury; Jack Owens, Cameron Phelps, Frank Winterstein, Patrick Ah Van; Kevin Brown, Joe Mellor; Eamon O'Carroll, Grant Gore, Ben Kavanagh, Dave Allen, MacGraff Leuluai, Hep Cahill
Substitutes: Phil Joseph, Adam Lawton, Danny Craven, Willie Isa
Tries: Owens (2), Ah Van
Goals: Owens (2)
Game pictures courtesy of Bob Brough
15, Aug, 2013