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GUARDIAN VERDICT: Warrington Wolves 40 Leeds Rhinos 20
BEN Westwood may have received all the plaudits, but this victory was about much more than just one man.
Of course the second rower’s four-try rampage rightly attracted the headlines – and let’s face it, Westwood is deserving of praise more often than he usually receives it – but the performance from 1-17 will be cause for some quiet optimism at The Halliwell Jones Stadium this week.
Leeds arrived off the back of a fine win at The DW Stadium, with a fresh complement of players and with the experience of many successful play-off series behind them, but Wolves were superior in almost every department.
Wolves’ pack were more effective, their kicking was better and they took their chances with aplomb, gaining control of the game late in the first half and refusing to let it go.
Monaghan, coming on 25 minutes in after Micky Higham’s opening stint had taken some of the spring out of Leeds’ step, changed the game in a way that conjured images of his superb form in 2011.
His darting runs from dummy half, his pass selection and general smart play succeeded in keeping Leeds on the back foot and ensured Wolves’ complete dominance during the opening 20 minutes of the second half.
Briers helped in that regard, too, kicking a fine 40/20 and continuing to torment the visitors’ line defence with the delicate grubbers that supplied two of Westwood’s four tries.
Leeds fans will argue with some conviction that Wolves’ stand-off should never have been on the pitch after he punched Carl Ablett in the first half, and it is difficult to argue otherwise.
James Childs’ decision to not send Briers off was undoubtedly the turning point in the game, the resulting fight providing a spark that seemed to galvanise the hosts.
Briers’ contribution after that point was significant and though he was disciplined by way of a Grade A punching charge and subsequent fine, for Leeds that came all too late.
Brian McDermott, however, did not hide behind that decision in the press conference, conceding fairly that Rhinos had failed to handle Wolves’ grunt up front.
Wolves’ forwards were once again excellent in their workrate, while Stefan Ratchford had another eye-catching game at the back.
It begs the question whether Brett Hodgson is certain of a first team place when he returns from the injury that kept him out of this encounter.
Simon Grix deputised well at scrum half, scoring an excellent solo try, but Richie Myler’s predicted return next week points to the fact that a Wolves already looking close to their best will likely be full strength and flying for Thursday’s semi final.
The 40-20 win was Wolves’ second ever play-off victory against Leeds Rhinos, their only previous victory coming in 2006.
Simon Grix made his 150th Super League appearance, having played six times for Halifax and 144 times for Warrington.
Chris Bridge needs two tries to reach a career century of touchdowns.
This is only the second time that Wolves will use ClubCall to choose their play-off semi-final opponents.
Super League Qualifying Play-off
Saturday, September 14, 2013
Wolves: Stefan Ratchford; Joel Monaghan, Chris Bridge, Ryan Atkins, Chris Riley; Lee Briers, Simon Grix; Chris Hill, Micky Higham, Paul Wood, Trent Waterhouse, Ben Westwood, Ben Harrison. Subs: Adrian Morley, Michael Monaghan, Garreth Carvell, Mike Cooper.
Leeds: Zak Hardaker; Ben Jones-Bishop, Kallum Watkins, Joel Moon, Ryan Hall; Danny McGuire, Kevin Sinfield; Kylie Leuluai, Rob Burrow, Jamie Peacock, Jamie Jones-Buchanan, Carl Ablett, Ryan Bailey. Subs: Brett Delaney, Brad Singleton, Ian Kirke, Liam Sutcliffe.
Scoring: Westwood try, 6mins, Ratchford goal, 6-0; Watkins try, 12mins, Sinfield goal, 6-6; Sinfield try, 18mins, 6-10; Grix try, 27mins, Ratchford goal, 12-10; Westwood try, 36mins, Briers goal, 18-10; Westwood try, 47mins, 22-10; Briers try, 58mins, Briers goal, 28-10; Hardaker try, 64mins, 28-14; Westwood try, 67mins, Briers goal, 34-14; Hardaker try, 73mins, Sinfield goal, 34-20; Atkins try, 75mins, Ratchford goal, 40-20.
Penalties: Wolves 3 Leeds 6
Referee: James Child
Top Man: Ben Westwood
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