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Warrington Wolves' young side hold on against spirited Widnes Vikings comeback
James Mendeika, Gareth O'Brien and Chris Riley celebrate Wolves' Boxing day victory. Pictures by Mike Boden
Widnes Vikings 22 Warrington Wolves 30
WARRINGTON Wolves’ youthful Boxing Day side held on for a deserved 30-22 victory against a strong Widnes Vikings team at the Stobart Stadium.
Fielding a side of 17 British players, all but three homegrown, Warrington exhibited their enviable strength in depth against a Vikings squad containing many of their first-team players.
Only six of Wolves’ starting 13 could be considered first-team regulars, but that did not prevent the visitors from controlling much of the first half despite some lapses in composure.
Widnes capitalised on a shaky opening from Wolves by taking an immediate lead, Jack Owens pouncing on a mis-fielded grubber kick and converting his own try for a 6-0 advantage.
But Wolves’ faltering start did not last long and the visitors soon established themselves in Widnes territory, with Ryan Shaw and James Mendeika almost combining to level the scores.
It marked the start of a purple patch for Warrington, who forced a goal-line drop out before Garreth Carvell - returning to action after an off-season knee operation - was held up by some scrambling Widnes defence.
The prop forward was not to be denied however, as he charged over Widnes’ line to level the scores after 14 minutes, with Gareth O’Brien converting.
Widnes were trying their hand at some Warrington-style offloads in the first half, a tactic that came back to bite them when Chris Riley picked off a stray pass and exploded through a gap to send James Mendeika over after some nifty footwork. O’Brien converted for 6-12.
But despite looking comfortably on top for much of the opening 30 minutes, Tony Smith's men let their defensive concentration slip during one of Widnes’ rare first-half forays into Wolves territory.
Danny Craven found it all too easy to slip through a gap on Wolves’ try line to plant the ball down between the posts and give Owens the simple task of adding the extras.
A spectacular Paddy Flynn tackle in the corner then prevented Shaw from a certain try after Ben Currie’s excellent pass had sent the winger through, but Wolves did eventually take a lead into the break after O’Brien’s lovely inside short ball sent Mike Cooper over for their third try of the afternoon.
O’Brien’s conversion was the final act of a largely impressive first-half display from Wolves, with the teams turning around with the score 12-18.
The second half was a much more even affair, though Wolves could arguably have been further ahead within minutes of the restart after Shaw’s seemingly fair breakaway try was disallowed despite the referee playing advantage to Warrington.
Currie remedied the situation on 48 minutes, however, finishing off one of Wolves’ better passing moves to charge through a gaping hole in Widnes’ defensive line.
O’Brien’s conversion made it 12-24.
That marked the start of the home side’s best spell in the game and Wolves’ nerves started to jangle when Craven darted through holes in the scrambling Warrington defence to place the ball next to the posts and give Owens a simple conversion.
Widnes had given away far too many penalties at this stage, conceding 10 to Wolves’ two on the hour mark, but that did not stop them going within a kick of restoring parity after substitute Patrick Ah Van finished neatly in the corner despite the best efforts of Riley and Shaw.
The missed conversion meant that Widnes trailed by only two points heading into the final 10 minutes and the 3,696-strong crowd - bolstered by a healthy Warrington contingent - sensed an upset could have been on the cards.
That was until Micky Higham ended any hopes of a home comeback, racing away through a gap left by tiring Widnes legs to score to the right of the sticks.
O’Brien, as he had all afternoon, slotted over the extras and Wolves held on for a well-deserved victory.
Widnes: Jack Owens; Paddy Flynn, Stefan Marsh, Chris Dean, Willie Isa; Joe Mellor, Grant Gore; Alex Gerrard, Phil Joseph, Ben Kavanagh, Macgraff Leuluai, Frank Winterstein, Dave Allen. Subs: Cameron Phelps, Patrick Ah Van, Hep Cahill, Ben Davies, Danny Craven, Tom Gilmore, Declan Hulme.
Wolves: Chris Riley; Rhys Williams, Rhys Evans, James Saltonstall, Ryan Shaw; James Mendeika, Gareth O'Brien; Garreth Carvell, Micky Higham, Paul Wood, James Laithwaite, Ben Currie, Mike Cooper. Subs: Gene Ormsby, Gavin Bennion, Brad Dwyer, Danny Bridge.