Benefiting from ambition

Warrington Guardian: Andrew Johns, very happy with his debut performance for Wolves against Leeds at The Halliwell Jones Stadium. Pictures: MIKE BODEN Andrew Johns, very happy with his debut performance for Wolves against Leeds at The Halliwell Jones Stadium. Pictures: MIKE BODEN

IT was Wolves’ second season at their new den that brought home the significance of The Halliwell Jones Stadium in turning the club’s fortunes around.

Attendances shot to a 50-year peak, averaging at 11,003, as Paul Cullen’s team delivered Warrington’s best Super League season to date, resulting in a fourth-place finish and a debut home clash in the play offs.

A first full campaign on the right flank for internationals Martin Gleeson, a controversial £275,000 capture from St Helens during a ban from the sport, and New Zealander Henry Fa’afili showed clear ambition to break the monopoly of Super League’s top four – Bradford Bulls, St Helens, Leeds Rhinos and Wigan Warriors.

But the story of the 2005 season was Wolves’ audacity and success in signing legendary Australian half back Andrew ‘Joey’ Johns for a guest spell after his NRL campaign had ended with Newcastle Knights.

The electric atmosphere generated by a sell-out 13,024 attendance on September 10 as Johns, on his debut, inspired Wolves to a 33-16 win against Tony Smith’s world club champions, Leeds Rhinos, has not yet been beaten.

With the way the season had got better and better, for the first time in the summer rugby era some Wolves fans went home that night believing that their team could actually go on to win the title – an incredible U-turn from days of battling at the bottom of the ladder with £¾m per year losses at crumbling Wilderspool Stadium.

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Although two games later the script had to be ripped up after an almighty let-down at home to Hull FC in the play offs, sending out the Warrington careers of Johns, Nathan Wood, Graham Appo, Daryl Cardiss, Dean Gaskell and Warren Stevens on a low note, the arrival of Wolves mania and Johns fever meant business was booming.

So much so, that the 11 per cent crowd increase on top of the previous year’s 38.2 per cent rise had prompted Wolves bosses to commission drawings for potential extension work at a stadium that was now also home to more than 20 health services and an educational foundation too.

Early on in the season all had not gone to plan.

Only two wins from seven outings included a heartbreaking 18-16 loss at home to St Helens, with Keiron Cunningham’s try in the last 10 seconds being Saints’ third in 10 minutes as Ian Millward’s side maintained its hoodoo over Wolves.

But an exciting 35-32 home victory over Bradford Bulls sparked a run of 10 wins from 11 games, with the rising crowds being thrilled by some sensational free-flowing football.

Danny Lima’s way to Amarillo

WOLVES’ Samoan prop, the former Manly enforcer and nightclub doorman Danny Lima, lapped up the atmosphere at The Halliwell Jones Stadium in the summer of 2005.

It was a feature of the run of 10 wins in 11 games that Lima would lap the pitch after a game to share ‘high fives’ with the fans as Peter Kay and Tony Christie blasted over the tannoy with Comic Relief hit song Is This The Way To Amarillo.

Player of the year

BRENT Grose switched from the threequarter line to full back and became Wolves’ player of the year.

He also scored what continues to be one of the best tries seen at The Halliwell Jones Stadium, a 90-metre effort from a kick return against Wakefield and beating seven men in the process.

UEFA women

THE stadium was put on the European football map when four UEFA Women’s Championship matches took place at The Halliwell Jones Stadium between June 6 and 16.

In Group B, holders Germany beat Norway 1-0 in the first football game on the ground.

Norway’s 3-2 semi-final defeat of Sweden, after extra time, attracted the venue’s biggest crowd of the tournament (5,722) although all four games were well supported.

Kiwis pay a visit

ENGLAND lost to New Zealand 30-22 in a friendly on November 6 during the Kiwis’ series with Great Britain. Crowd: 7,298

Home tries in 2005

Henry Fa’afili 13

Martin Gleeson 11

Brent Grose 8

Nathan Wood 7

Logan Swann 7

Ben Westwood 6

Jon Clarke 5

Lee Briers 3

Toa Kohe-Love 3

Graham Appo 3

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