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FULL TIME: Warrington Wolves 16 Wigan Warriors 30
WARRINGTON Wolves’ Super League title hopes lie in tatters once again.
Wolves will be haunted by this horrific second-half for some time to come, as Wigan Warriors fought back from what seemed to be an impossible position to earn a convincing 30-16 victory at Old Trafford.
For the second year in a row, Wolves found themselves falling foul of a player that looked to be out injured early on, this time Harry Sunderland winner Blake Green pulling the strings and scoring a decisive late try to play the part occupied by Kevin Sinfield in 2012.
Everything looked to be going so well after the opening 40 minutes, Wolves cruising to a 16-6 half-time lead through quickfire tries from Joel Monaghan, Simon Grix and Ben Westwood. But as Wolves’ injuries started to stack up, so did Wigan’s hopes of redemption. The loss of Joel Monaghan and, most decisively, Stefan Ratchford to a horrific tackle in the second half, proved to be too much for Wolves to cope with, as the shuffled players struggled to match Wigan’s intensity in unfamiliar positions.
Nothing went Wolves’ way after the break, losing Garreth Carvell to an injury to add to the earlier two and being on the wrong end of a one-sided penalty count meant Wigan were the only team who threatened. Tries from Michael McIlorum, Josh Charnley, Blake Green and Pat Richards completed the turnaround and left Wolves on their haunches at the final hooter, wondering for a second time where it all went wrong.
As expected, it was a tight, tense opening 10 minutes. The tone was set early by Ben Westwood’s hearty tackle on Blake Green, which left the Wigan stand-off prone on the Old Trafford turf. Video replays seemed to show that Wolves’ second rower went in with a punch, and as such was lucky to escape punishment.
Lee Briers’ early kicks were doing their job, keeping Wigan pinned back, though Chris Riley was called to put his fingertips to a threatening Wigan move down the right flank. Scrambling Wolves defence was required to keep Wigan at bay, before Matty Smith’s grubber ran long.
Then Wolves got their first sniff of Warriors’ try line on eight minutes. Briers’ kick forced a goal-line drop-out, and from the resulting set Wigan were called to hold Chris Hill and Micky Higham short before Briers’ lofted kick to Joel Monaghan was disrupted by Pat Richards.
It was Wigan, though, who drew first blood. Richards opted to kick a penalty on 11 minutes to hand his side a slender advantage. Shaun Wane’s men then turned the screw, with Green recovering from that early hit to kick an excellent 40/20 in the very next set. Luckily Wolves’ defence was equal to the task and it was Riley who ended up tidying up after some dogged defending of their line.
Then came the breakthrough Wolves had been patiently waiting for. Josh Charnley was penalised for dragging Richie Myler into touch and from the resulting set, Joel Monaghan struck with an outstanding aerial try in the right corner. Brier’s pinpoint kick singled out the Aussie winger and Monaghan’s fingertips took the ball out of Richards grasp before he caught the ball and flopped into the corner. Stefan Ratchford missed the kick, but Wolves had turned the tide in their favour.
If there was any doubts that Tony Smith’s men had the upper hand, they had been extinguished within moments of the restart. Richards’ kick went out on the full and Wolves positioned themselves to strike once again. This time it was Simon Grix who provided the final touch, latching on to Micky Higham’s short ball to explode over the line and add a Grand Final try to the brace he scored in Wolves’ semi final victory. Ratchford made no mistakes from the kicking tee to extend Warrington’s lead to 10-2 within 20 minutes.
Wigan were reeling, and a scrubbed tackle count after Briers’ kick was the last thing Warriors needed as Wolves went hunting for a decisive third try. It came from none other than Ben Westwood, who, just like in his four-try performance against Leeds, timed his run on to Briers’ delayed ball to perfection. The second rower charged through two Wigan defenders on the line and roared along with the Wolves fans as his threw the ball triumphantly into the crowd. Ratchford’s goal extended Wolves’ lead to 16-2.
On came Michael Monaghan and Garreth Carvell at the half-hour mark, and Wolves’ Aussie hooker copped an early high shot to win a penalty. It came to nothing, and instead it was Wigan who had the next chance, attacking, as they had all game, down the right flank in an attempt to target Chris Riley and Ryan Atkins on Wolves’ left. Once again though, Josh Charnley was unable to make it count and Wolves’ line defence was looking unbeatable as half time approached.
Unfortunately for Wolves, that did not prove to be the case. Following a long delay due to Joel Monaghan’s head injury on 37 minutes, Wigan made the most of their last chance before half time. Showing the rapid passing and well organised lines they had shown in their best moments, Wigan again attacked down the right and this time made it count. Sam Tomkins’ pass sent Darrell Goulding crashing through Riley and Ratchford, though Richards missed the conversion to send the teams in at half time with Wolves holding a 16-6 lead.
Joel Monaghan’s injury looked to be game-ending for Wolves’ prolific winger, meaning that Wolves were forced to shuffle their team with Chris Bridge moving on to the wing outside of Simon Grix.
Wigan emerged looking dangerous after the restart, with Wolves not helping themselves by conceding two penalties for offside. From the second, Wigan struck. Michael McIlorum shrugged off the challenge of Michael Monaghan to cross next to the posts. Richards’ simple conversion reduced Wigan’s deficit to just four points.
Then came another huge injury blow for Smith’s men, as Ratchford was left writhing in agony on the turf after Harrison Hansen clattered into his legs while being held by Lee Mossop. Wolves’ full back was helped from the pitch and Briers was called to move to full back as Wolves’ walking wounded continued to grow.
By now the momentum was well and truly in Wigan’s favour, and for the second time in the game, they took the lead. Attacking once again up the right, Goulding’s well-placed grubber kick left Atkins stranded and bounced kindly for the onrushing Josh Charnley, who finally dropped over between the sticks. Richards’ conversion opened an 18-16 lead for Shaun Wane’s side.
Wigan thought they had sealed the game moments later, but Sam Tomkins’ pass for Charnley was deemed to have gone forwards and Wolves breathed again.
That was until Wigan scored what looked to be the decisive try. Penalised for a ball steal, Wolves were desperately trying to keep the Warriors at bay and keep the game in the balance. But Blake Green wriggled free to dart over from close range and effectively end the game as a contest, Richards converting.
Everything was going against Wolves, who were struggling to cope with the massive changes forced by Wolves’ injury problems. Even when they seemed to be getting back on the front foot after a penalty, Wolves were harshly penalised themselves for an obstruction that only referee Richard Silverwood could see.
The final nail in the coffin followed soon after. O’Loughlin’s long, cut-out pass found Richards in acres of space to touch down the game’s final try, the final scoring act in a half that Wolves will be desperate to forget.
Wolves: Stefan Ratchford; Joel Monaghan, Chris Bridge, Ryan Atkins, Chris Riley; Lee Briers, Richie Myler; Paul Wood, Micky Higham, Chris Hill, Ben Westwood, Simon Grix, Ben Harrison. Subs: Adrian Morley, Michael Monaghan, Garreth Carvell, Mike Cooper.
Wigan: Sam Tomkins; Josh Charnley, Darrell Goulding, Iain Thornley, Pat Richards; Blake Green, Matty Smith; Gil Dudson, Michael McIlorum, Lee Mossop, Harrison Hansen, Liam Farrell, Sean O'Loughlin. Subs: Jack Hughes, Ben Flower, Scott Taylor, Dominic Crosb
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