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FULL TIME: Warrington Wolves 24 Leeds Rhinos 6
SOME incredible wins have been achieved against Leeds Rhinos during the Halliwell Jones Stadium era and tonight’s was among the best.
The Andrew Johns debut night, two Challenge Cup Final successes at Wembley and the play-offs mauling last year were all significant, but so was this toppling of the Super League table toppers.
And for a number of reasons too.
The success maintains growing momentum, a fourth successive win in the league, after a stuttering start.
It is a win that galvanises the club ahead of the Challenge Cup quarter final at Bradford next weekend too, because the crowd loved what they were seeing and sang their socks off.
They rallied behind the team better than they had done at any time this year and the players responded in kind with a gutsy and spirited display that left the League Leaders’ Shield favourites second best throughout.
Also impressive and encouraging was the way Wolves adapted to play without talisman back rowers Ben Westwood and Trent Waterhouse, fielding a majority of backs in their 13 for much of the game in a tactical plan that worked brilliantly even after the losses of Ben Currie and James Laithwaite to injury.
It proved to be a milestone night for Chris Bridge as Wolves tore up the visitors.
Continuing in the half backs, Bridge, who said this week he is feeling in the best condition for many years, touched down his 100th Wolves try and went beyond 1,000 career points in the opening half of a pulsating clash with Leeds Rhinos.
Both sides came close in the frenetic opening exchanges, Stefan Ratchford and Carl Ablett both having scores ruled out.
Ratchford was unable to connect cleanly with the ball as it bounced up from Bridge’s kick after a superb break down the right from Gene Ormsby and Joel Monaghan.
Then Ablett lost possession in the act of reaching out to touch down after a short burst from first receiver.
But Warrington were the most dangerous looking team from then on, attacking Leeds around the ruck area with their fast men.
The deadlock was eventually broken in the 18th minute when Michael Monaghan darted right from dummy half and popped out a lovely pass to the left for Bridge to hare into space.
He had England full back Zak Hardaker to beat with Joel Monaghan in support and he sold the most outrageous dummy to complete the job from 30 metres with Joel punching the air in delight behind him. Bridge added the extras too.
Some moves broke down with lost possession by Ryan Atkins, Laithwaite and Chris Hill but they continued to threaten with gusto.
Then came a stroke of genius from boss Tony Smith.
He took off prop Anthony England and brought on another speed merchant in Richie Myler in an all-out attempt to go for the Leeds jugular.
With three half backs on the field, Leeds were confused with whom to mark and Myler was soon tearing up the Leeds line with Hill in support for try number two after 32 minutes. Bridge’s goal took him to 1,001 career points.
Moments later a Michael Monaghan try on the zero tackle was controversially ruled out for a knock-on in back play, but referee James Child appeared to have been mistaken and had blown too early.
Furious Wolves stuck to the task though and on the next set from the scrum got over the line again.
Myler’s long pass tempted a Leeds defender out of the line to attempt an intercept and it left acres of space for Bridge to angle his way over for his 100th Wolves try. Bridge kept up his 100 percent kicking.
In the closing moments of the half Wolves could have gone further ahead had it not been for the determined tracking back of Ablett, hounding down Joel Monaghan near the corner flag after he had continued an Ormsby breakaway.
Rhys Evans came within a whisker of handing Wolves a wonder start to the second half, escaping Tom Briscoe and backing himself to reach the corner as Hardaker tracked him while cutting off the inside pass to Atkins. Hardaker just did enough to force Evans’ foot into touch as he tried to ground the ball.
When Laithwaite limped out of the action in the 48th minute, Smith brought on more pocket dynamite in the shape of Micky Higham.
Wolves, with only three recognised forwards on the field in the shape of Roy Asotasi, Hill and Ben Evans, were attempting to run the bigger and tiring Leeds 13 off their feet.
And try number four looked to be on its way from another breathtaking break in the 51st minute, starting with a Michael Monaghan kick to the wing and then Joel Monaghan, Ben Evans, Higham, Hill, Evans again, Higham again and Ratchford finally touching down but the video referee correctly ruled Evans had knocked on with his second touch.
The game was put beyond Leeds with a Bridge penalty from 20 metres in the 56th minute after the visitors were caught offside.
Leeds made sure they would not be nilled in the 62nd minute with a bizarre score.
It looked as though time had stopped, with no attacking movement or defensive advancement as Leeds had possession 20 metres from the Warrington line.
Joel Moon and Jamie Peacock handled twice and then something came out of nothing as Kylie Leuluai blasted home off Peacock’s pass. Kevin Sinfield converted to make it 20-6.
Some weary legs were on show as mistakes crept in but Wolves still finished strongly, with Joel Monaghan stretching out of a tackle to score the team’s final try in the 78th minute.
The centre was caught in the head by Ablett’s shin and boot in the process of scoring and did not finish the game.
With brother Michael limping at the end too, it does leave Wolves with a few injury concerns but they will be nothing but buoyed by inflicting upon Leeds their heaviest defeat of the season and in such style.
Wolves: Matty Russell; Gene Ormsby, Joel Monaghan, Ryan Atkins, Rhys Evans; Stefan Ratchford, Chris Bridge; Chris Hill, Michael Monaghan, Anthony England, James Laithwaite, Ben Currie, Ben Harrison. Subs: Richie Myler, Micky Higham, Roy Asotasi, Ben Evans.
Rhinos: Zak Hardaker; Tom Briscoe, Kallum Watkins, Joel Moon, Ryan Hall; Danny McGuire, Kevin Sinfield; Kylie Leuluai, Robbie Ward, Jamie Peacock, Mitch Achurch, Carl Ablett, Chris Clarkson. Subs: Stevie Ward, Ian Kirke, Liam Sutcliffe, Brad Singleton.
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