Leigh Centurions 20 Warrington Wolves 34
A FEW sighs of relief were audible on Sunday.
For some players, Wolves’ first friendly of the year meant more than simply blowing away cobwebs as the new season closes in.
By coach Tony Smith’s own acceptance, no amount of training can simulate the full intensity and physicality that a match generates.
So to come through the game with just one twisted ankle (Danny Bridge) – on a day when several players were making comebacks after surgery – was a God send.
And the circumstances affected some key men.
Stefan Ratchford, considered the most likely to take over the stand-off role following Lee Briers’ retirement, tasted his first 17 minutes of action since the severe ankle ligament damage suffered against Wigan Warriors in October’s Grand Final.
And new signing Roy Asotasi, the former New Zealand captain, had a 20-minute opportunity to acclimatise to the biting breeze and soft surface that are a far cry from his recent experiences with South Sydney Rabbitohs in Australia.
Asotasi, who missed the World Cup campaign with Samoa due to a clean-out operation in his knee, pulled through with no concerns.
Their appearances were of the cameo variety in contrast to another debutant, Anthony England.
For it was the 6ft 5ins prop’s first contest since featuring for Featherstone Rovers against Leigh in a Championship encounter last June, when he damaged his shoulder so severely that a reconstruction was required.
He got stuck in for the opening 49 minutes and returned for the last seven minutes to show there was more graft left in the tank.
But England admitted it was another front rower who impressed on the day.
“I thought all the boys dug in and I was really proud of them,” he said.
“You don’t know each other until you’ve played together and after this I feel I know them all a bit better.
“I thought Glenn Riley was outstanding and I think he has set the benchmark.”
Cumbrian Riley, who broke into the first-team last year with six appearances off the bench, got through heaps of work and always looked capable of wreaking havoc with the ball.
He also caught Smith’s eye, as did Gareth O’Brien’s game management and Brad Dwyer’s sharpness out of dummy half despite the bombardment that came his way in defence.
Wolves, still suffering a little jet lag after the flight back from Australia, only got into their true stride in the second half against a 24-man Leigh squad that included nine new signings and no shortage of Super League experience.
Although they trailed 16-12 at half time, with Kevin Penny finishing off Wolves’ two scores, Warrington controlled the second half.
A lovely inside pass from Ben Currie, playing at stand off, allowed full back Jordan Burke to neatly skirt his opposite number Gregg McNally to put Wolves back in front.
Penny completed his hat-trick by getting on the end of a fine break down the left by Gene Ormsby, Ryan Shaw and Burke before 19-year-old Joe Philbin enjoyed a moment to remember for the rest of his life.
In only his second first-team friendly, the former Latchford Albion and Culcheth Eagles back rower held off the challenge of Mat Gardner to go over for the final try.
It was a sweet moment for all the young guns to savour, as Wolves ended the match with Tom Walker, Declan Patton, Jack Johnson, Toby King, George King and Andy Ackers all strutting their stuff.
“It certainly puts a smile on my face to watch some of those young boys compete so well like they did,” said Smith.
“The future of the club is looking really bright with some of the young talent coming through.”
Wolves: Jordan Burke; Gene Ormsby, Ryan Shaw, Rhys Evans, Kevin Penny; Ben Currie, Gareth O'Brien; Anthony England, Brad Dwyer, Glenn Riley, Danny Bridge, James Laithwaite, Ben Evans. Subs (all 10 of them): Tom Walker, Declan Patton, Stefan Ratchford, Roy Asotasi, Micky Higham, Jack Johnson, Toby King, George King, Andy Ackers, Joe Philbin.