Wizards Triumph In Final
WARRINGTON WIZARDS 23 HUDDERSFIELD UNDERBANK RANGERS 18
Warrington Wizards produced a magnificent performance to be crowned The Co-operative Rugby League Conference National Grand Final Winners in a top quality game of Rugby League at The Halliwell Jones Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
An absorbing, compelling contest that was in doubt to the last play saw the Wizards pick up their first trophy since their inception in 2005, although the trophy was won in the inaugural 2003 season under the Warrington Woolston Rovers banner, as they ended Rangers' ten match winning run in a terrific advert for RLC rugby that was appreciated by a big crowd.
The game, one of the best deciders the competition has witnessed, was a tremendous opening bout for Co-operative Grand Finals day, with Rangers scoring early but seemingly out of contention on the hour when they trailed by twelve points but then with 11 minutes to go the combatants were level but a field goal and try two minutes from time saw the Wizards' home although that was not the end of the drama.
There was still time for Huddersfield to regain and lose possession and then win a scrum against the head but time ran out for the side who had come from fourth to so nearly take the spoils. There were heroes throughout in a tie played without quarter given but in tremendous respectful spirit.
Rangers' young second rower Nathan Chappell was the David Oxley Medal winner after a magnificent display on attack and defence but he was pushed all the way by Wizards' stand off Alan Reddecliff, scorer of one try and creator of two with a classy performance at pivot.
Shaun Gilmour and Lee St Hilaire were tireless in their respective packs, Joe Worthington a handful in a terrific wingers duel with Craig Middlemore while player/coach Chris Campbell was a calming influence at the back for the victors.
Both sides were at close to full strength with great anticipation at seeing the battle between recently crowned RLCN Player of the Year, Wizards' back rower Jono Smith and Rangers' boom centre and the competition's Young Player of the Year, teenager Adam Ryder. Ryder posed a threat whenever he was given space while Smith's initial involvement lasted five minutes when he was forced off for treatment.
Rangers carved the first opening, scrum half Tom Anthony's grubber for the corner forcing Campbell to concede a drop out and then strong drives from Sam Housley and Chappell allowed former Sheffield Eagles hooker Adam Carroll to dart over from acting half back close in to open the scoring close to the posts, stand off Neil Barrett converting.
Ryder made a damaging break and St Hilaire good ground but on the last Anthony's grubber went dead and Rangers were hit on the sucker punch. From a quick tap on their 20, Campbell broke through and outpaced the cover on a 70 metre charge to the line but was forced towards the corner and hooker Warren Ayres' conversion attempt drifted wide as a result.
Having dominated the opening quarter of the game, Rangers lost the initiative and were again sunk on the counter attack. Initially, Nathan Williams' long pass gave Worthington a tilt but Middlemore made a fine tackle. On the last, Carroll tried to repeat his feat of burrowing over but was held out and from the handover the Wizards struck in an effective 12-point turnaround.
Smith's return with a bandaged nose was the key; Scrum half Ian Stephenson and Reddecliff set him in motion, he found Matt Taylor and his lob inside was touched by a Huddersfield hand, Smith pouncing to send the supporting Reddecliff across and Ayres goaling.
Seven minutes later, after Worthington had ankle tapped Middlemore, Warrington were rewarded when they chose to run a penalty and again benefitted from a back to one call. This time Reddecliff returned the compliment for Smith with a majestic short pass that sent the loose forward to the posts, Ayres making it 16-6 at the break.
The third quarter was scoreless but it looked as though Rangers' lack of finish would be their undoing. St Hilaire was strong up the middle, forcing David Yii in to a fine tackle to deny Ryder and Barrett's low pass caused Nathan Williams to knock on when Rangers had forced a turnover in the Wizards' 30 but gradually Warrington reasserted their dominance, Middlemore was held up by some superb goal line defence in the corner and from another Gilmour thrust Smith's pass went to ground.
Again Rangers spurned an opportunity with a forward pass on the first tackle on the back of drives from St Hilaire and Chappell that had secured a second set. Wizards substitute Matt Wilson's powerful lunge and offload to prop forward Matt Clarke elicited a penalty, Taylor took on the drive and when Rangers were caught offside on their own line on the hour, Ayres made it 18-6 with the penalty.
Smith knocked on with the line open from Reddecliff's long pass which would have sealed the outcome but that served to galvanise Underbank who posted two tries in four minutes to draw level. Firstly Barrett's offload found Carroll and then Napoleoni Vinaka, Anthony re-gathering his own ricocheted grubber for Worthington to ghost over and then winger Richard Aka's half break set Rangers on the attack again and, from Carroll's quick tap - his reintroduction being a spur - Sam Housley showed great strength to crash over, Barrett added both conversions to tie the scores at 16-16.
Gilmour denied Vinaka and Middlemore took Alex Chatterton's chip as Warrington looked to regain their ascendancy. Taylor's flick pass found Campbell, Gilmour went on a charge and Smith landed a coolly taken field goal with five minutes remaining to edge the ‘home' side ahead.
Campbell perfectly read Barrett's chip and a raid down the left saw Ayres and Reddecliff give Middlemore a run but he was just held. From the play the ball, Taylor's measured kick out wide was gathered by Yii and he sent winger Graham Healey over in the corner, too far out for Ayres to convert but Wizards held on for a memorable 23-18 victory.
Immediately after the game Wizards Head Coach Chris Campbell acknowledged that his side had been in a real fight for glory. "We've been there or thereabouts for the last couple of seasons but not quite managed to get to the Final but we did this year and we have done the job," he joyously proclaimed. "We knew they'd come out all guns blazing but we weathered the storm as best we could, built a good lead and then made hard work of it. I was getting a bit worried when they levelled but credit to the lads; they went the extra mile for the win. This is a great feeling for the whole club not just the seventeen that was on the pitch. There were several key players who have been with the club for the past five years who missed the game through injury, so this was for them aswell. Also the backroom team have been superb without getting the credit they deserve and our fans have been great all year and were out in force today."
Assistant coach Mike Grady added: "This is a very special day for everybody and it feels great. We struggled a little at the start but once we got ourselves into the game we played some top quality rugby. They came back at us around the hour mark and drew level but the lads didn't panic and we went back down field and got the points we needed. We thoroughly deserved the win and we will enjoy the celebrations tonight. Let's hope that we can repeat this next year because it is such a great feeling."
Half Time Score: 16-6
Full Time Score: 23-18
Chris Campbell, Graham Healey, David Yii, Matt Taylor, Craig Middlemore, Alan Reddecliff (C), Ian Stephenson, Tom Wild, Warren Ayres, Matt Clarke, Shaun Gilmour, Nick Owen, Jono Smith
Subs: Matt Wilson, Simon McEvoy, Dan Faulkner, Carl Leach
Tries: Campbell, Reddecliff, Smith, Healey
Goals: Ayres (3)
Drop Goal: Smith (1)
Nathan Williams, Joe Worthington, Alex Chatterton, Adam Ryder, Richard Aka, Neil Barrett, Tom Anthony, Dave Valentine, Adam Carroll, Sam Housley, Nathan Chappell, Craig Williams, Lee St Hilaire
Subs: Victor Smith, Naoleoni Vinaka, Paul Horsfall, Sam Dalby
Tries: Carroll, Worthington, Housley
By Dave Whalley
27, Sep, 2010