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Ten years at The Halliwell Jones Stadium - part 6 - Wolves put trust in Tony
Adrian Morley, Kevin Penny and Chris Riley parade the Challenge Cup trophy in front of the Halliwell Jones Stadium crowd
IT was a season of extremes for Wolves in 2009.
A year that started on rock bottom with an unwanted club record of successive defeats ended in triumph after the Challenge Cup was secured for the first time in 25 years.
The poor start, on the back of five straight losses at the end of 2008, led to Wolves’ board taking decisive action.
Jimmy Lowes’ reign as top dog lasted just 17 games as England coach Tony Smith was brought in as head of coaching and rugby, with Lowes becoming his assistant.
With the arrival of a man who had achieved Grand Final and World Club Challenge glories with Leeds Rhinos, levels of optimism rose.
But a shock 60-8 loss at Harlequins signalled there would be no overnight turnaround, although Smith’s first home game in full charge was a welcome first win of the year at home to Hull KR.
However, despite an Easter double slump, that victory did herald a change in fortunes - the start of a mid-season run of 13 wins from 17 games, a period which saw centre Martin Gleeson leave and join Wigan while full back Richie Mathers came the other way.
Garreth Carvell and Micky Higham were starting to find their feet in their debut campaigns and a strong 16-8 home success against arch-rivals Wigan was perfectly timed, generating a good mood for the cup quarter-final tie at Hull KR that Lee Briers settled by landing the winning ‘golden point’ drop goal in extra time.
League form remained erratic though, with a 21-10 home loss to Bradford doing nothing to encourage supporters through the turnstiles.
The average home Super League attendance, that had peaked at 11,003 in 2005, was heading to a stadium low of 9,221 while there was to be no full house during the campaign - the first time that had occurred since the move from Wilderspool.
Then came the annual defeat to St Helens but the 62 points racked up against Salford was the highest at home in a Super League game at the new den.
It put fans in good spirits for the magical Challenge Cup semi-final success over Wigan at Widnes but nerves were on show a week before Wembley with an unexpected 40-28 home defeat to Wakefield.
Wolves were on the money in the final, defeating Huddersfield 25-16 and sparking incredible celebrations on the streets of Warrington for the homecoming.
A 10th-place finish was confirmed with the 44-34 win over Harlequins in the final league game a fortnight later but again that day was all about the lap of honour with the Challenge Cup.
Red Reserves bid farewell
LIVERPOOL Reserves’ tenancy at The Halliwell Jones Stadium lasted two seasons.
Current Bolton Wanderers striker and former France under 21s international David Ngog was among the scorers as the Reds signed off with a 5-1 win against Newcastle United on April 29, 2009.
Gary Ablett’s men had been unable to match their title-winning performance of the 2007-08 season, needing the victory over Newcastle on the final night of the Barclays Premier Reserve League (North) campaign to ensure they avoided finishing bottom.
Attendances had dropped during the run, with the 430 for the send-off game comparing to the peak of 10,500 against Manchester United 14 months earlier.
CHRIS Hicks continued to make a name for himself as Wolves’ try machine.
The three he scored in the 40-18 home win against Huddersfield Giants on April 26 came a week after his triple in the 58-22 victory at Bradford, becoming Wolves’ first player to score hat-tricks in successive matches since fellow Australian Brian Bevan in 1961.
Grand Final win
FORMER Wolves players Paul Noone and Andy Bracek were in the Barrow side which defeated Halifax 26-18 in the Championship Grand Final at The Halliwell Jones Stadium on October 4, 2009.
In the curtain-raisers, Keighley Cougars defeated Oldham 28-26 in the Championship One decider while Bramley Buffaloes snuffed out Huddersfield Underbank Rangers 38-22 in the Conference Grand Final.
Cup love affair
THE Halliwell Jones Stadium staged its third Challenge Cup semi final.
On the same weekend in August that Wolves won their last-four battle with Wigan Warriors at Widnes, Brett Hodgson inspired Huddersfield Giants to end St Helens’ Wembley hopes with a 24-14 success in front of 10,638 supporters.
Home tries in 2009
Lee Briers 5
Garreth Carvell 4
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