It was red hot in Warrington for the prime slot Saturday afternoon BBC TV fixture between a struggling Wolves side and a Wigan outfit having a mixed season that had them off their usual high league position. The pre-match warm up brought another blow for the Wolves with Kevin Brown having to withdraw making way for Declan Patton to be drafted in.
The Warriors welcomed back Sam Tomkins for his first game since last September, Gelling from a six week absence and Bateman for only his second game of the season. Would the return of some of the Wigan old guard prove too much for the out of form Wolves to secure a semi final spot?
On three minutes, following cheaply given up possession by Warrington, Sam Tomkins got his 2017 season off to a flyer. Trying to capitalise on the advantage rule, Tomkins kicked the knocked on ball through the Wolves line. Backing his own kick he flew through to follow the ball only to be purposefully blocked by Ratchford. Fortunately for the Wolves Thaler kept his card in his pocket for what could have easily resulted in a ten minute breather in the bin for Ratchford.
Warrington looked to be more composed than they have been of late in some of their Super League fixtures and the both sides played sensible football with good completion rates. The deadlock was broken by the Warriors with a darting run by Williams making good meters. A fast play the ball found Tomkins then Gildart on the left and with only Ratchford to beat a neat pass to Burgess proved an easy try for the Warriors. Williams converted with ease.
From the subsequent restart Gelling fumbled the catch, knocking on. A subsequent series of penalties against the Warriors within their ten meter area couldn’t be capitalised on by the Wolves eventually knocking on in front of the Wigan posts.
Ten minutes later, following the decision being passed upstairs, a trademark airborne effort from Burgess was awarded and Wigan were two tries to the good. Williams kicked from the side line and with 21 minutes on the clock the Warriors were starting to turn the screw on the Wolves.
On 25 minutes Marshall couldn’t quite take in the pass missing, blowing what would have been a sure fire try.
A minute later following a penalty to the Wolves, the Warriors were forced to defend their own line. A strong testing set from the Wolves was rewarded when Gidley put a beautifully weighted kick in to the Warriors try zone. Gelling lost sight of the ball allowing Ryan Atkins to take the ball in the air and ground safely for the Wolves first try of the game. Patton converted with ease and the Wolves were back in the game.
On 32 minutes another period of possession with the Wolves testing the Warriors line, resulted in another neat short kick into open space in the Wigan try zone and Atkins again responded quickest nipping through the line and expertly getting ball to ground before sliding in to touch. Thaler asked the video ref to check onside offside which was fine and the try was awarded. Patton converted to level the score.
On 36 a series of cross field passes the last of which, from Gelling to Marshall, was questionable, resulted in a ducking run which Atkins and Ratchford failed to deal with and Marshall went over for his eighth try in three games against the Wolves. Williams made it three from three and a six point margin was re-established.
The Wolves pressed again in the closing minutes of the first half but couldn’t add more points and it was 12-18 at half time.
The start of the second half was scrappy with both sides knocking on or losing the ball repeatedly.
On 46, pressure by Wigan on the Warrington line following a good 40/20 effort and a penalty following interference by King on Sutton, Thaler awarded a Penalty and Williams chose to take the two from in front of the sticks.
On 55 minutes a sloppy Wolves pass on the Wigan 15m line found nobody and Burgess attempted to snatch the ball from ground level. He couldn’t take it cleanly and Thaler rightly blew up for a knock on. From the resulting scrum the Wolves probed the Wigan line and on the third play Gidley found Savelio who went over with ease for a peach of a try. Patton added the extras and there was only two points in it.
On 61 minutes a final play the ball from the Wolves ran the width of the pitch and and an attempted kick and chase from Lineham got Marshall in a spin and a clear block on Linehams chase rewarded the Wolves with a penalty. Warrington decided to run it and were rewarded with another penalty when McIlorum failed to clear the play the ball. This time Warrington elected to kick. Patton kicked the penalty and with 13 minutes left the score was levelled at 20 – 20.
On 64 minutes an ordinary set from Wigan suddenly opened up and with some great cross field passing the ball ended up with Bateman who made a practically unchallenged diagonal run to sweep round and put the ball down bang between the Wolves sticks. Williams calmly stepped up and added the extras and the Warriors moved in front once again.
Scrappy, hot, tired play followed with mistakes from both sides and Thaler did well to keep order in a game that could have decended into disciplinary hearings, but on 73 minutes Sam Tomkins marked his return with a successful drop goal attempt from tem meters out to try and put the game out of the reach of the Wolves.
On 75 a high bomb from Ratchford led to a goal line drop out, giving the wolves a late shot at a try and on the subsequent set some neat passing found Gidley unmarked near the posts and a well worked try was the reward. Patton kicked again and with three minutes left on the clock the Warriors led by a solitary point.
Amazingly Williams put the resulting restart out on the full and with no hesitation Ratchford indicated that the Wolves should go for the two points and to win the game. Nail biting stuff!
Ratchford nominated himself to take it himself and despite every Wolves supporter crossing everything he pushed it well wide and the Wigan one point advantage was maintained. However Wigan took the ball out of play and a goal line kick restart was the decision from Thaler. Following a full set of Warrington possession and no seconds left on the clock Patton made an effort on his own drop goal just pushing it wide.
A shame for Warrington who tried extremely hard in hot conditions to make every effort to right a difficult season for them. Credit to Wigan who provided an entertaining game especially for the neutral. Importantly this was a good game of League for the BBC and generally a good advert for the game which was played with some pace and flair at times, if a little scrappy around the edges.
Ratchford, Dagger, Hughes, Atkins (2T), Lineham, Patton (5G), Gidley (c)(T), Cooper, Clark, Sims, Jullien, Philbin, Westerman. Subs: Dwyer, G King, Savelio (T), Wilde.
S Tomkins (DG), Marshall (T), Gelling, Gildart, Burgess (2T), Williams (5G), Leuluai, Nuuausala, McIlorum, J Tomkins, Bateman (T), L Farrell, O’Loughlin (c). Subs: Isa, Sutton, Powell, Tautai.
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