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Super League II - 1997
AFTER the disappointment of narrowly missing the top four the previous year, Warrington began Super League 2 with fresh optimism and a new nickname - the Wolves.
A quartet of high-profile signings - former Great Britain hooker Martin Dermott and the Kiwi trio of prop Dallas Mead, second rower Tony Tatupu and utility back Nigel Vagana - had come to Wilderspool and hopes were high that the Wolves fans would be howling with delight in 1997. Sadly, it was not to be.
The Iestyn Harris dispute had not been resolved, and the young star eventually packed his bags and moved to Leeds for £300,000 early in the season. And there was further bad news on the field as Warrington lost 29-10 at home to Salford in the Challenge Cup quarter-finals and then crashed to defeat in their first three games of the Super League campaign, after which coach John Dorahy left the club.
A daunting opener at Odsal saw the Wolves ripped apart by Bradford Bulls in a 58-20 hammering, with Vagana and Tatupu scoring a debut try apiece. A Richard Henare hat-trick could not prevent the Wolves from slipping to a 38-18 defeat at home to London, and then a 32-18 loss at Sheffield left the Wolves at rock bottom.
Remarkably, the club's first points of the season came at home to Wigan on March 31, as a Vagana hat-trick helped to seal a famous 35-24 win in front of 7,213 surprised fans at Wilderspool. Alex Murphy and Paul Cullen took charge of the side that day, but soon afterwards the Wolves appointed Australian Darryl Van de Velde as their new coach.
April also saw the unfortunate Mead released from his contract after suffering a serious injury. With confidence restored following the Wigan game, the Wolves went on to win three of their next four matches, beating Oldham, Castleford and Paris - but it was then that the wheels well and truly came off.
In their next 14 outings - which included eight Super League games and six in the inaugural World Club Challenge - the Wolves won just once, a narrow 25-22 success against Halifax at Wilderspool.
The horror run began with a 42-30 loss at Halifax, where new £65,000 signing Lee Briers scored his first Wolves try, and continued with heavy defeats by Bradford, London, Sheffield and Leeds.
In the World Club Challenge, the Wolves hosted Cronulla Sharks, Penrith Panthers and Auckland Warriors, and were blown away in all three games in front of disappointingly low crowds. When the Wolves made the trip Down Under for the return fixtures, they again failed to register a win, although the 16-4 defeat at Auckland was at least respectable.
The Wolves picked up slightly in August, with wins over Salford, Paris and Castleford, but for the fans and players alike, the end of Super League 2 couldn't come quickly enough.
A record of eight wins from 22 games saw the Wolves finish in ninth place, with Vagana's 22 touchdowns making him the league's top try-scorer.
Bradford Bulls, with 20 wins and just two defeats, were runaway winners of the Super League title. For the Wolves, though, it had proved to be a year of turmoil on and off the pitch, with players coming and going with bewildering frequency.
Club stalwart Paul Cullen finally succumbed to injuries and retired in July, star winger Henare was sacked in August following off-the-field problems, while a trio of senior professionals - Paul Hulme, George Mann and Richie Eyres - arrived mid-season to try to pull the side out of its slump.
But amid all the changes, it was the loss of the mercurial Harris which hurt the most - and still does.
Wolves squad: Paul Barrow, Liam Bretherton, Lee Briers, Martin Carney, Chris Causey, Gary Chambers, Andy Currier, Paul Derbyshire, Gareth Davies, Martin Dermott, John Duffy, Andrew Duncan, Richie Eyres, Salesi Finau, Mark Forster, Shaun Geritas, Iestyn Harris, Richard Henare, Chris Highton, Mark Hilton, Chris Holden, John Hough, Paul Hulme, Ian Knott, Toa Kohe-Love, Mateaki Mafi, George Mann, Dallas Mead, Anthony Murray, David 'Doc' Murray, Lee Penny, Carl Roden, Jon Roper, Chris Rudd, Paul Sculthorpe, Kelly Shelford, Warren Stevens, Willie Swann, Tony Tatupu, Tony Thorniley, Nigel Vagana, Mike Wainwright, Paul Wingfield.