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GUARDIAN VERDICT: Widnes Vikings 22 Warrington Wolves 30
IT is a mark of the quality of Warrington Wolves’ youth set-up that they were able to field a side with an average age of 22 and still produce a 30-22 victory against a strong Widnes team at the Stobart Stadium.
Granted, this match was closer than some Boxing Day exhibitions Wolves have played against traditional ‘derby’ rivals and Widnes were not exactly full strength thanks to nine first team absentees, but the fact remains Tony Smith was able to field a 17-man squad that included six players without any Super League experience and still walk away with a win.
Adding to that, with 14 of those 17 players being products of Wolves’ youth system a lot of positives can be taken from the match without even looking too closely at the play itself.
Best of all, Wolves’ largely inexperienced side – containing nine players with less than 10 Super League matches under their belts – controlled the game and looked the more accomplished and mature of the two teams, particularly in the first half.
Having spent months out of action due to a shoulder dislocation and subsequent surgery, Gareth O’Brien looked sharp and demonstrated the talent that puts him in place to step into Lee Briers’ shoes should the Wolves stalwart become injured or if Tony Smith sees fit to rest the 34-year-old during the long Super League season.
The only down side came with Wolves’ defensive slips – summed up by a try conceded from a dummy half scoot – which allowed Widnes to go within two points of a result, but optimism is still the prevailing feeling ahead of their friendly against Wigan on Saturday, January 26.
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.