WARRINGTON Wolves did just about enough to exorcise the visiting demons in a hit-and-miss 14-8 victory against Salford Red Devils at The Halliwell Jones Stadium.
Salford’s ‘Red Devil-ution’ still seemed trapped in its early stages as Wolves breezed to a comfortable 14-0 lead thanks to tries from Joel Monaghan, Ben Westwood and Chris Riley in a dominant first half.
But a Rangi Chase-inspired try from Francis Meli just before half time strengthened the visitor’s resolve and as Warrington went off the boil after the break, Salford took their chance.
Greg Johnson claimed the second half’s only try as a revived Red Devils took the game to Warrington in atrocious conditions, but despite a few scares Wolves managed to hold out for the win.
It was all Warrington in the opening 10 minutes, as they tried their arm several times against the new-look Salford XII. The first breakthrough came on five minutes, Ben Westwood and Chris Bridge producing consecutive offloads that found Stefan Ratchford running a nice support line up the wing. Joel Monaghan took an inside pass and was eventually stopped 15 metres out, but Wolves were showing their attacking flair.
They could have opened the scoring five minutes later, when Micky Higham’s speculative kick out to the left evaded Jason Walton, but Chris Riley could not quite dribble the grounded ball over the line.
As it was Wolves’ fans did not have to wait much longer to see the opener, and it came in familiar fashion. Some strong Salford defence had held Chris Hill up over the line, but some quick passing down the line on the subsequent play saw Ratchford’s lovely flick pass give Chris Bridge plenty of time to send Joel Monaghan crashing over through two defenders. Ratchford missed the conversion and Wolves led 4-0 after 13 minutes.
The next two Wolves tries came inside three minutes. Fresh from some handbags with the ever-popular Rangi Chase, Ben Westwood ran on to Bridge’s delayed pass to charge through Salford’s left flank defence and double the hosts’ lead. Moments later Wolves again found joy down the right, this time an out-of-position Chris Riley running a diagonal line on to Richie Myler’s inside pass. Ratchford missed his second shot at goal, so Westwood stepped up to convert their third try and open a 14-0 lead after 23 minutes.
The scoring settled down as the rain lashed the pitch and handling became more difficult, with Tony Smith making the first of his changes after 27 minutes. James Laithwaite, Glenn Riley, Jordan Burke and Anthony England replaced Westwood, Roy Asotasi, Ratchford and Chris Hill over the course of 10 minutes leading up to half time.
Salford, on the other hand, were finding it tough going. They had barely breached Wolves 20-metre line in the opening 35 minutes and when they did, an errant pass allowed Chris Riley to intercept and dash up the field. Chief among their poor starters had been Chase, who had been fairly ineffective until he scooped up England’s dropped pass and started a run to Wolves’ line. He evaded Joel Monaghan long enough to send the supporting Francis Meli over in the corner and the teams trooped in at the break with Salford undeservedly cutting the host’s lead to 14-4.
The second half became a victim of the increasingly ferocious downpour, with both teams struggling to hold on to the ball at crucial moments. After an uninspiring opening 40 minutes, Salford showed much more spirit after the break and despite going a man down due to the sin-binning of Chase, cut Wolves’ lead inside of 10 minutes.
Missing Chase after he had lashed out at Michael Monaghan, Salford reduced arrears through Greg Johnson’s catch and dive try in the corner. Tim Smith’s hanging kick allowed Johnson to beat both Ryan Atkins and Chris Riley in the air, meaning Wolves lead 14-8 after 54 minutes.
That was how it stayed until the final whistle, though Salford had a fair crack at dragging themselves level against a Warrington side that appeared to lose control a little after half time. A wonderful Stuart Howarth 40/20 almost resulted in Johnson grabbing a second try to take his side level, but he was deemed to have knocked on in the build-up.
Warrington were limited to just two chances in a less than inspiring second half, with Ben Evans’ effort held short of the line following Myler’s kick towards the posts. The second came on 70 minutes, when some decent pressure on Salford’s line resulted in Ben Westwood being pushed into touch early in the tackle count when dashing to the corner from Bridge’s pass.
Smith will certainly have been happy with his side’s first half, but it was in stark contrast to a second period that allowed Salford to get back into the game. Brian Noble, on the other hand, will have taken heart from his side’s spirit to get back into it after a miserable opening. Overall though both sides will be looking for improvements ahead of their Super League openers next week, when Wolves will welcome St Helens to the Halliwell Jones Stadium on Thursday.
Wolves: Stefan Ratchford; Joel Monaghan, Chris Bridge, Ryan Atkins, Chris Riley; Michael Monaghan, Richie Myler; Chris Hill, Micky Higham, Roy Asotasi, Trent Waterhouse, Ben Westwood, Ben Currie. Subs: Rhys Evans, Anthony England, Jordan Burke, Brad Dwyer, Ben Evans, James Laithwaite, Gareth O’Brien, Gene Ormsby, Kevin Penny, Glenn Riley.
Salford: Jake Mullaney; Danny Williams, Jason Walton, Junior Sa’u, Francis Meli; Rangi Chase, Tim Smith; Adrian Morley, Tommy Lee, Lama Tasi, Harrison Hansen, Matty Ashurst, Tony Puletua. Subs: Theo Fages, Darrell Griffin, Andrew Dixon, Shannon McPherson, Jordan Davies, Niall Evalds, Stuart Howarth, Greg Johnson, Jordan Walne.
Watch the press conference with Tony Smith after the match below.