Warrington 34 Wirral 28
IN a game which had more twists and turns than an Olympic slalom course, Warrington eventually came out top by beating league leaders Wirral – and collecting a four-try bonus point to boot.
This was a match that truly lived up to all its hype, as two excellent sides contested the outcome right up to the final whistle.
It also gave Warrington the satisfaction of knowing that they are the only side to take seven points off Wirral this season.
Warrington attacked from the start and were unlucky when Kieran Hughes was just denied after three minutes.
They continued to apply pressure and were rewarded with the first try of the game when Matt Connelly crashed over after the forwards had recycled the ball through five phases.
Pat Roberts converted.
From the re-start, the Warrington pack secured the ball in their own 22 and Steve Pilkington, who troubled the opposition throughout, broke through the defensive line and made good ground before handing onto Kieran Hughes.
The winger took the outside track before handing back to his supporting centre and Pilkington cruised over.
Wirral came back strongly and Warrington were forced onto the back foot.
However, they continued to generate good possession through Josh Riley and Matt Connelly in the lines, while their set scrum even had the temerity to drive Wirral off their own ball when the visitors seemed set to score.
Unfortunately, they suffered a huge blow when Kieran Hughes was forced to leave the field with an ankle injury.
This meant a drastic rearrangement in the backs, with Jake Ashall, taking up an unaccustomed position in the centre and Steve Pilkington moving onto the wing.
Even so, Warrington continued to deny Wirral a score until a lack of concentration at a five yard scrum saw the defence bamboozled by a clever Wirral backs’ move and the opposition gained a converted try on the stroke of half time.
The first 20 minutes of the second half belonged totally to Wirral.
They claimed a strike against the head at the first scrum of the second period and their scrum half scuttled over under the posts.
The conversion gave them a two-point lead.
Warrington were then reduced to 14 men when Steve Pilkington was sin-binned and the visitors tried to exploit their numerical advantage by electing to go for consecutive scrums when awarded three penalties under the posts.
The Warrington seven withstood the pressure heroically but the Wirral strategy eventually bore fruit when they scored a push-over try.
This was converted to give them a nine-point lead.
Warrington cut the deficit with Pat Roberts’ penalty before going on to regain the lead when Jake Ashall showed that his tackle-busting talents were transferrable from the back row to the centre by surging over under the posts from 20 yards to allow Pat Roberts an easy conversion.
But the game was far from over, as Wirral immediately replied with a touch down in the corner, followed by a magnificent touchline conversion.
With 10 minutes to go and six points adrift, Warrington once again showed that great self-belief which has been a hallmark of their season.
A searching kick from Tom Wood gave them good position in the Wirral 22 and the forwards worked through the phases before Tom Wood found the narrowest of gaps and threaded through to score.
The try was converted and Warrington were once more ahead. But the one point lead was soon converted into a six point advantage when Zak Lythgoe threw the most outrageous of dummies and forced his way to five yards from the Wirral line.
The rest of the Warrington pack swarmed in and worked together to create just enough room for Ashley Rockey to surge over and seal the win.
“This was a superb game of rugby,” said coach Andy Roberts. “We started well and we finished well and once gain we showed that we can beat anybody in this league, especially at our home fortress.
“We play second-placed Birkenhead Park at Walton Lea in the last game of the season, having narrowly lost to them in our opening fixture.
“Again we have something to prove.”