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FULL TIME, PICTURES ADDED: Warrington Wolves 6 Widnes Vikings 16
Stefan Ratchford switched to full back following the injury to Brett Hodgson. Pictures by MIKE BODEN
WARRINGTON Wolves’ hopes of finishing top of Super League have been washed away by a rain-soaked defeat to 12-man ‘derby’ rivals Widnes Vikings at The Halliwell Jones Stadium.
Despite losing Hep Cahill after 40 minutes, an injury-hit Vikings were able to punish Warrington’s persistent handling errors to secure their first league double over the men in primrose and blue since 2004.
Widnes were missing leader Jon Clarke and second row Gareth Hock as well as seven other first team regulars, but coped with those losses much better than a Wolves side who were also missing some of their big names.
They also coped better with the greasy condtitions, with a double from Jack Owens and a further try from Patrick Ah Van being more than enough to cancel out Wolves’ solitary effort, which came after Simon Grix had charged over in the left corner to open the scoring.
But Wolves will be kicking themselves for their own wastefulness with ball in hand, as the hosts were barely able to complete a set during a second half to forget.
Warrington had enjoyed the best of the opening arm wrestle, though both sides were reluctant to throw the ball around too much in the driving rain. Chris Hill was the first to fall foul of the wet conditions and knock on, as the two teams exchanged kicks in the opening 10 minutes.
As has so often been the case this season, it took some quick thinking from Micky Higham to spark the game’s first piece of excitement. The hooker spotted a gaping hole in Widnes’ defence next to a scrum and pounced to race away up the centre of the pitch. Unfortunately for Wolves Chris Bridge’s subsequent pass found no one and even though they won the ball back, Tyrone McCarthy’s knock on let Vikings off the hook.
The ball was becoming increasingly difficult to keep hold of, and Joel Monaghan was perhaps fortunate to knock the ball backwards after an uncharacteristic drop of a high bomb at the back. But it was not just the ball that was becoming slippery, as Ben Westwood slipped short of the try line in the first of several falls on the Halliwell Jones pitch.
Widnes had done well to keep the hosts at bay, but a penalty for interference at the play-the-ball gave Wolves the chance to open the scoring. The ball was whipped left through Michael Monaghan and Brett Hodgson chiming into the line created an overlap that Simon Grix exploited to full effect. Stefan Ratchford shrugged off last week’s kicking troubles to slot over the resulting conversion for 6-0.
By now the knock ons were racking up thick and fast, Hill and Frank Winterstein exchanging handling errors shortly after Grant Gore had been stretchered off with a leg injury. But the attacking efforts from both sides had been somewhat lacking, though Hodgson’s kick wide almost produced a gap for Joel Monaghan to exploit.
A few Widnes fans were proving problematic for the stewards in the West Stand, resulting in what seemed to be a full-blown punch-up between staff and members of the travelling support. Things were not much better on the pitch, as Micky Higham and Phil Joseph clashed in a scrum to fire up both sets of players near the Widnes line. The after effects of that melee were seen moments later, as Joseph felt the full force of Ben Westwood on more than one occasion as the Wolves second row looked to make his presence felt.
But while there was plenty of excitement on and around the pitch, neither side had enjoyed too much attacking threat since the first try. That was until Widnes built some pressure with back-to-back penalties near the Wolves line, exploited beautifully by Kevin Brown’s perfectly weighted kick to the corner. The kick was good enough to beat Chris Riley and Jack Owens collected to touch down in the corner for 6-4 after half an hour.
Wolves had the chance to extend their lead before the break, but Mike Cooper dropped the ball over the line as he twisted in the tackle.
But the largest moment of controversy was yet to come, as both sides lost a player shortly before the break. Brown’s high kick spiralled into the arms of a slipping Hodgson, who was caught hard in the head by the swinging arm of Hep Cahill. Referee Phil Bentham took hardly any time deliberating with the touch judge before showing the Vikings loose forward a red card, as a bleeding Hodgson was stretchered from the field in a neck brace.
Wolves’ collective nightmare with ball in hand continued after the break, as Chris Bridge was unable to collect Michael Monaghan’s grubber and kick-start the second half with a much-needed try.
It was to get much worse for the home side, who started to feel the pressure as soon as Joel Monaghan lost the ball inside his own 40-metre line. Widnes got two bites of the cherry after Brown’s kick was knocked on, and that was enough to earn the visitors the lead. Rhys Hanbury’s huge cut-out pass found Patrick Ah Van all alone on the wing and he slid in to give his side the lead for the first time in the game. Owen’s touchline conversion made it 10-6 after 56 minutes.
Within moments, Widnes had stretched that lead. Hanbury’s break sent Widnes romping up the field and Joe Mellor’s lovely kick on the outside of his boot found Owens flying into the corner to send the travelling fans into raptures. Owen converted his own try to open a 16-6 lead after 61 minutes.
Try as they might Wolves could not keep hold of the ball, knocking on set after set as the frustration around The Halliwell Jones Stadium started to build. Unfortunately for the hosts that was the story throughout a terrible second half, and with each slip of the ball the game slid closer and closer into the waiting grasp of a jubilant Widnes Vikings side.
Wolves: Brett Hodgson; Joel Monaghan, Chris Bridge, Simon Grix, Chris Riley; Stefan Ratchford, Michael Monaghan; Paul Wood, Micky Higham, Chris Hill, Trent Waterhouse, Ben Westwood, Tyrone McCarthy. Subs: Ben Harrison, Mike Cooper, Brad Dwyer, James Laithwaite.
Widnes: Rhys Hanbury; Jack Owens, Cameron Phelps, Frank Winterstein, Patrick Ah Van; Kevin Brown, Joe Mellor; Eamon O’Carroll, Grant Gore, Ben Kavanagh, Dave Allen, Macgruff Leuluai, Hep Cahill. Subs: Phil Joseph, Adam Lawton, Willie Isa, Danny Craven.
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