There’s plenty of praise so far this season for Daryl Powell’s Warrington Wolves and it’s well deserved. Their head coach arrived in April last year, after Steve Price was ousted, and the Yorkshireman got straight to work on creating a thinner squad that was capable of getting back to the top of the Betfred Super League.
Out went the likes of Gareth Widdop, Oliver Holmes, Jack Hughes and Toby King, and in came Paul Vaughan, Sam Kasiano, Matty Russell and Josh McGuire to name a few. Eight games into the 2023 season, it was not surprising to see them doing well because of their name and history and it even seemed this squad is good enough to finally claim some silverware.
On Friday night however, it was Wigan Warriors that claimed the two points that ended Wire’s winning streak. An early try from Jake Wardle after some quick hands gave the Warriors an early advantage, and Matty Peet’s side dominated the first half, forcing errors from Warrington while Harry Smith’s kicks prevented Wire from getting out of their own half for much of the forty minutes.
Brad O’Neill slammed the ball down over the whitewash for his first Wigan try and their second of the game. Wire responded just four minutes before the half time whistle, with former Wigan youth player Matty Nicholson getting one back against his former side.
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The second half only really saw a drop goal from Smith to keep Warrington at arms length, despite the video referee chalking off two efforts with one from Greg Minikin troubling most fans. It appeared that he did get the ball down despite it being a loose carry, but the players reaction probably didn’t help as it was one of anguish rather than feigning a celebration to convince the referee and crowd that it was fair.
The game ended and Wigan fans were jubilant, celebrating as Sky caught up with Willie Isa after the game, who displayed a large lump on his head as a medal of honor for his efforts. There’s plenty for the cherry and white faithful to be happy about too. Joe Shorrocks’ loan to Leigh at the start of the season has seen him return to the fold and propelled straight into back-to-back must-win games against St Helens and Warrington.
Their problematic defending in the centres last season has been resolved on both sides by the additions of Toby King and Wardle, with Willie Isa proving to be excellent cover for both sides in their absence. Wigan’s performances have actually been improving steadily since the injury to Jai Field against Leigh just three weeks ago, and with Wakefield next up, they'll be eyeing up a move to the top of the Super League table if Warrington's trip to the Totally Wicked Stadium ends in victory for St Helens.
Plenty of praise for Wigan, but Warrington’s title challenge isn’t dead by any means. A club that’s often mocked for it’s claims of glory, Wire fans do have plenty to be pleased about this year. Up until last week, they were comfortably the best team in the league. A tight game against Catalans and a controversial loss to Wigan isn’t slowing down the momentum of a club in rhythm. Extensions to the contracts of Paul Vaughan and George Williams is a marker, not only for Warrington, but for all of Super League. Williams is tied at the top of the try assists table with Harry Smith with 10, and sits just behind Vaughan as the top metre makers in the league with 1354m and 1388m made so far this season.
Head coach Powell acknowledged the potential errors from the video referee, as well as a strong Warriors performance, but his words encapsulated a perfect attitude from a leader that’s focused on the bigger stakes, not individual games.
“You don’t go through seasons undefeated so we just learn the lessons, improve from it and come out of it better.” Powell said in his post-match conference.
That they will do for sure. Warrington’s next test takes place on Thursday night, a difficult trip up the road to the Totally Wicked Stadium to face out-of-form world champions St Helens. The Saints might be injury-ridden but they have enough world class players to damage the best teams, so Warrington will have to be at the top of their game to claim a victory.
Wigan face Wakefield next Sunday in a day filled with Super League action, and they’ll no doubt have a keen eye on Thursday’s game to see how many points they need to score against Trinity to put them right up with Wire at the top.
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