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FULL TIME: Warrington Wolves 8 St Helens 38
WARRINGTON Wolves’ 2014 campaign got off to the poorest start for many a season tonight.
After Saints struck with a triple whammy of tries early in the first half, Wolves could do nothing right.
While Luke Walsh, Saints’ new scrum half from Penrith Panthers, ran the show behind a dominant pack, Wolves looked like a ship without a rudder.
Gareth O’Brien’s introduction brought some steadiness to Warrington’s play but with Saints’ defence looking sharp and strong the contest looked over by the break.
It is early days, and every decision went Saints way under the lenient officialdom of Phil Bentham, but the lack of penetration was a concern, as was the fact that Saints looked a yard faster and a stone heavier per man.
Two late Saints’ tries did not put a false reflection on the scoreline and Tony Smith has got work to do with his breed of 2014.
Wolves got the start they wanted, scoring their first try of 2014 after just 99 seconds.
Willie Manu’s knock-on deep inside his own half gave the home side chance to shape up from a scrum.
After Roy Asotasi was held up five metres short, a long wide ball to the right from Michael Monaghan found Chris Bridge in enough space to squeeze a killer pass to Joel Monaghan and last season’s top try scorer flew over in the corner despite the covering attempts of Adam Swift.
Stefan Ratchford got plenty of weight and height behind his touchline conversion attempt, kicking into a stiff breeze, but his effort steered wide to leave it at 4-0.
Three dubious decisions from referee Phil Bentham went Saints’ way in the build-up to their 12th minute reply. This sponsorship with Specsavers for the officials is clearly not working!
After Saints got on the front foot from the first penalty of the game, there seemed to be a knock-on that Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook got away with and after Wolves’ scrambling defence held out Ryan Atkins was pulled up for a knock-on that seemed to go backwards.
From the next set, Turner skilfully offloaded around Chris Riley for Tommy Makinson to dive over in the corner but the pass looked forward. Luke Walsh’s goal from the touchline put Saints two points clear.
The visitors were soon 12-4 in front, stand off Gary Wheeler being given the room to change his direction twice before feeding James Roby through a hole to the left of the sticks. Walsh’s extras put Saints in control after 16 minutes.
It soon got worse for Wolves, who felt aggrieved that Turner was not considered to have knocked on from the re-start.
A Walsh 40/20 paved the way for former Wakefield prop Kyle Amor to stretch his arm out of an almost completed tackle by Atkins and Trent Waterhouse. Walsh’s extras made it 18-4 to complete a rotten spell without a touch of the ball for Tony Smith’s side.
Wolves were rattled and dishevelled, seemingly unable to put two passes together as they tried to find a way back against a Saints defence buoyed by their scores and firing on all cylinders.
No protection was coming Wolves’ way from Bentham either as Sia Soliola committed a high tackle that looked a credible red card offence but not a word was said with the Samoan, just a penalty.
And a Jon Wilkin high tackle on Chris Riley came soon after.
Wolves only looked as though they were finding some rhythm again when Gareth O’Brien arrived on the field, getting a grip of organising the shape and structure as well as steering the side around the field.
But they still never looked like getting over the try line and the first-half scoring was completed with a Walsh penalty goal stemming from calamitous defending, with Chris Riley and Stefan Ratchford getting in each other’s way attempting to take a high kick.
Turning around 20-4 behind was something of a mountain to climb based on how the last 30 minutes of the opening period had panned out.
And the climb got a little steeper 80 seconds into the second period, Anthony Laffranchi charging over from close range after Saints had won possession from a charge down. Walsh’s extras pushed Saints to 26-4.
A fortuitous consolation try came Wolves’ way when O’Brien’s high kick rebounded back into play off the right post at the east end and he was able to retrieve possession and put Joel Monaghan over for his second score.
But Saints had the final say with Adam Swift crossing in the left corner and Walsh capping his Saints debut with an interception try from a Ben Westwood pass, as well as adding his own conversion.
Saints fans, never ones to show any mercy, lapped it up and even broke out in cheeky chants of ‘going down, going down’.
As unlikely as that is, it would still have hurt after an opening night performance like this.
Wolves: Stefan Ratchford; Joel Monaghan, Chris Bridge, Ryan Atkins, Chris Riley; Michael Monaghan, Richie Myler; Chris Hill, Micky Higham, Roy Asotasi, Ben Westwood, Trent Waterhouse, Ben Currie. Subs: Ben Evans, James Laithwaite, Gareth O’Brien, Glenn Riley.
Saints: Jonny Lomax; Tommy Makinson, Jordan Turnr, Mark Percival, Adam Swift; Gary Wheeler, Luke Walsh; Alex Walmsley, James Roby, Kyle Amor, Jon Wilkin, Willie Manu, Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook. Subs: Anthony Laffranchi, Sia Soliola, Josh Jones, Paul Wellens.