WARRINGTON Wolves have lost their opening two games of the season for the first time in five years.
Tony Smith's men went within inches of rescuing an undeserved point during an enthralling end to their 18-12 defeat at Headingley Stadium, but would probably admit that Leeds were worthy winners.
Having been second best for much of the first half and unable to make a breakthrough during the second, Wolves produced a late flurry to cut the deficit through Ben Westwood and give the hosts a scare in the final five minutes.
Though it was an improvement on the opening week performance against St Helens, Wolves will still be kicking themselves after failing to make the most of chances to snatch a point at the death.
It had all looked so promising after the opening try from Joel Monaghan, but perpetual mistakes in the first half and an inability to unlock Leeds’ line defence after the break meant home scores from Zak Hardaker, two, and Tom Briscoe were enough to earn the two points.
After a tentative start from both sides, Wolves were the first to threaten after six minutes. The first spell of pressure came after a three-man tackle forced Chris Clarkson to knock on near half way, though Wolves’ first set near the Leeds line ended with a poor grubber kick from Richie Myler.
The next two sets were much more productive, with Wolves having won possession back following Danny McGuire’s inability to secure a charge down 10m inside his own half. Ryan Atkins was held inches short on the first set, but a grubber from Myler forced a goal-line drop-out and from that Wolves opened the scoring. A pin-point chip to the corner from Gareth O’Brien found Joel Monaghan, though the prolific winger juggled the ball before touching down. Stefan Ratchford added the extras.
But that was to be as good as it got for Wolves in the opening 40 minutes. From that point Leeds began to control of the game, aided by plenty of Warrington mistakes. Kallum Watkins’ subsequent break was only halted by Ratchford’s fine covering tackle and that was only the start of Wolves’ troubles.
Zak Hardaker restored parity on 20 minutes, with the England full back latching on to Tom Briscoe’s grubber. There was a chance of a forward pass in the build-up from Watkins, but it was not spotted by the touch judge and Kevin Sinfield made it 6-6 from the kicking tee.
It only got worse, with Leeds twice being denied tries by the video referee in the following 15 minutes. A penalty conceded by Micky Higham and a knock-on from Ryan Atkins preceded Ryan Hall’s dash to the corner, which was only denied by fine covering defence from Joel Monaghan and Chris Bridge.
Rhinos were camped on Wolves’ line, though the visitors were replying with some solid defence. Lost possession, a wiped tackle count and a penalty gave Leeds ample opportunity to take the lead, but Wolves were scrambling to keep them at bay.
That was until Atkins produced his second knock on in 10 minutes, dropping Trent Waterhouse’s long pass with no pressure around him. It was one mistake too many for Warrington, who were only saved when Tom Briscoe narrowly missed McGuire’s grubber between the sticks.
But Wolves’ relief was short-lived, as Leeds finally broke their defence with 36 minutes gone. Hardaker’s excellent flat pass sent Briscoe charging through the line and he tied Ratchford in knots before shrugging off Ben Currie to score. Sinfield made no mistakes with the conversion and Rhinos took a deserved 12-6 lead.
There was a flash of brilliance from O’Brien just before the break, his dart through the line and pass to Bridge giving Wolves a chance to level. But Bridge’s kick inside was cleared by Carl Ablett and Wolves trooped in six points behind.
The start of the second half was better for Wolves, though they wasted a golden chance to draw level after 50 minutes. Some sustained pressure built by an O’Brien grubber and Ryan Bailey’s dropped ball resulted in three attempts at the Leeds line, but all fell short. Two strong drives were held up and Ratchford made an error of judgement when attempting to cut inside with the try line beckoning. Perhaps attempting to cut the angle for the conversion that should have followed, he was halted before he could reach the line by Zak Hardaker.
Leeds, and Hardaker in particular, made them pay for that immediately. Moving up the other end quickly, Rhinos’ impressive full back crossed for his second of the game after 59 minutes. On the last tackle and with seemingly few options on, Hardaker threw Myler and Ratchford a dummy and darted over to hand his side an 18-6 advantage once Sinfield had added the extras.
Wolves were not without chances of their own though, as they spent an unproductive spell on Leeds’ line in the following five minutes. Back-to-back penalties and two knock ons inside the 10m line gave Warrington a chance of reducing the deficit, but time and time again they fell short against the hosts’ excellent line defence. Michael Monaghan, Roy Asotasi and O’Brien were all held short, before Myler’s overcooked chip to the corner ended Wolves’ best spell of possession since their opening try.
Sinfield’s missed drop goal attempt soon after meant Wolves still required two tries to draw level in the final seven minutes, and they almost managed it. Having looked completely toothless in the preceding 10 minutes, Wolves cut the gap to six courtesy of the aptly named ‘super’ Bennie Westwood, who produced a super-human show of strength to crawl to the line with three on his back. Ratchford’s conversion made it 18-12 after 77 minutes.
Warrington then went within an inch of snatching a draw. With seconds remaining, Myler ghosted through the Leeds line and his pass almost sent O’Brien over on the right, only for him to be dragged down next to the line. A final speculative grubber went close to sending Gene Ormsby over in the corner, but Briscoe was on hand to ensure Wolves suffered their second consecutive loss of the year.
Leeds: Zak Hardaker; Tom Briscoe, Kallum Watkins, Joel Moon, Ryan Hall; Kevin Sinfield, Danny McGuire; Kylie Leuluai, Rob Burrow, Jamie Peacock, Carl Ablett, Brett Delaney, Chris Clarkson. Subs: Paul Aiton, Ryan Bailey, Stevie Ward, Brad Singleton.
Wolves: Stefan Ratchford; Joel Monaghan, Chris Bridge, Ryan Atkins, Gene Ormsby, Gareth O'Brien, Richie Myler, Chris Hill, Micky Higham, Roy Asotasi, Trent Waterhouse, Ben Westwood, Simon Grix. Subs: Anthony England, Michael Monaghan, Ben Currie, Ben Evans.