Crammed in like sardines

Warrington Guardian: Nathan Wood crosses for the first try at The Halliwell Jones Stadium. Pictures by Mike Boden Nathan Wood crosses for the first try at The Halliwell Jones Stadium. Pictures by Mike Boden

TEN years at The Halliwell Jones Stadium have flown by.

It was the new £12m home for Warrington Wolves that the Guardian had backed the club in campaigning for.

And what a difference the purpose-built venue has made.

It provided the catalyst for a revolution, with Warrington Wolves stepping out of the doldrums in which they had been sinking for many a year.

Now the club are one of the Super League big boys, contesting for titles and honours that had dried up since 1991.

And that is just the success on the field, not forgetting the outstanding community hub, charitable foundation, health services, banqueting and corporate facilities provided there.

It was sad to leave Wilderspool Stadium, cherished as a 105-year-old home full of memories that had been created over the decades by the genius of club legends like Jack Fish, Brian Bevan, Harry Bath, Parry Gordon, John Bevan, Ken Kelly, Les Boyd, Mike Gregory, Jonathan Davies and Lee Briers.

Nobody really knew how the Warrington townsfolk would take to a state-of-the-art facility that had been six years in the planning and built on the former site of the Carlsberg-Tetley Brewery.

But, after the club had been handed the keys four months earlier, a lock-out signalled the dawn of a new era on February 21, 2004.

The biggest crowd for a Warrington home game for 31 years, 14,206, crammed in like sardines.

Such was the clamour to be a part of history, some fans with tickets found themselves locked out for health and safety reasons.

The lucky ones got to see debuts from John Wilshere, Chris Leikvoll, Mike Forshaw and Danny Lima as Warrington celebrated a victorious start to their new era but it was not winning smiles all year.

Teams are renowned for taking a year or two to settle into a new ground and Wolves ended the season in eighth spot, with a home record of six wins, one draw and eight losses.

Paul Cullen’s men were inspired to its third Challenge Cup semi final appearance in five years, but a loss was suffered at the hands of Wigan in Widnes.

The most encouraging signs for the future though were Simon Moran taking over as majority shareholder, the signings during the year of New Zealand international Henry Fa’afili and Great Britain centre Martin Gleeson as well as the leap in attendance average from 7,031 in 2003 to 9,889, giving the club a platform to reach for new heights in modern times.

Hat-trick hero went for hot dog

NOT only did Australian half back Nathan Wood score the first try at The Halliwell Jones Stadium on its opening night, he went on to become the first Warrington player to bag a hat-trick on the ground too.

That achievement, the first triple of his career, came in the best home win of 2004, a 34-18 smashing of Wigan Warriors.

After his second try, he leaped the advertising hoardings, ran under the East Stand and returned to the arena from a different tunnel soon after.

Was it because he was so thrilled to have scored?

“I went to get a hot dog,” he told Warrington Guardian afterwards. “But they were sold out so I came back on the pitch.”

Another Australian, St Helens winger Darren Albert, beat him by one week to the honour of first hat-trick scorer at the venue.

New milestones for Warrington

TWO months after opening, The Halliwell Jones Stadium was hosting Warrington’s first Challenge Cup semi final for 67 years.

St Helens defeated Huddersfield Giants 46-6 in front of a 13,134 crowd on April 25, 2004, before going on to defeat Wigan in the final at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium.

Wolves’ new den staged its first second-tier international on November 7, 2004, when England defeated Ireland 36-12 in the European Nations Championship Final in front of 3,582 supporters.

On a scoring run

ONLY one player scored tries in each of Wolves’ first three games at the new stadium.

That man was prop Paul Wood, who crossed twice in the opening 34-20 win against Wakefield, once in the 80-0 Challenge Cup success against Rochdale and again in the 32-18 triumph against Castleford Tigers.

He and Ben Westwood are the only members of Wolves’ 2014 squad who figured in 2004.

Home tries in 2004

Brent Grose 9

Nathan Wood 8

Dean Gaskell 6

Paul Wood 6

Graham Appo 6

Ben Westwood 6

Jerome Guisset 5

Paul Noone 5

Mike Wainwright 5

John Wilshere 4

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