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FULL TIME: Catalan Dragons 22 Warrington Wolves 32
WARRINGTON Wolves are through to the semi finals of the Carnegie Challenge Cup after a tense finish in Perpignan this afternoon.
Tony Smith’s men became the first to win away to Catalan Dragons this year after holding off a strong fight back by Trent Robinson’s side in the second half.
The French club, trailing 20-6 at half time, cut the gap to two points within nine minutes of the second half and although a rare Paul Wood try put Wolves eight points clear again the scene was set for a nail-biting finish.
Vincent Duport’s try in the 73rd minute cut the gap to four points but Chris Bridge was quick to intercept Jason Baitieri’s pass on the Catalan 40-metre line two minutes later to stroll home for the match winner, converted by Brett Hodgson.
A stunning first-half display left Wolves three scores ahead of the French club at half time.
In fact, the 20 points they clocked up in the first half equalled the best by any visitors at Stade Gilbert Brutus in 80 minutes this season.
The pack was outstanding, laying a superb platform.
Most importantly, the forwards put up stubborn resistance with aggressive defence and forced Catalan into a lot of errors despite the home side having the benefit of a strong wind behind them in the first half.
Wolves weathered some early pressure and scored on their first attack on a warm but cloudy Perpignan afternoon.
A penalty conceded for offside paved the way for Gareth O’Brien, Lee Briers and Brett Hodgson to combine and put Joel Monaghan over for his 13th try of the season. Hodgson’s superb touchline conversion made it 6-0 with eight minutes gone.
Les Catalans got back on level terms in the 22nd minute and Wolves will not have been happy with the circumstances.
A forward pass five metres from Wolves’ own line by Ben Westwood put the team under pressure and in the next set Lopini Paea was fed through a huge hole left by Garreth Carvell and Micky Higham. Scott Dureau added the extras for 6-6 after 22 minutes.
Dragons were penalised for not being square at a play-the-ball and Hodgson booted over the 22-metre penalty goal to make it 8-6 six minutes later.
And it was a tremendous wholehearted tackle from Ben Harrison that gained Wolves the possession for their next try.
Again they worked the ball right via O’Brien and Briers and this time Hodgson held off feeding Monaghan and saved himself enough room to go over between the recovering Darryl Millard and Damien Cardace. Another touchline conversion success from Hodgson made it 14-6 with 35 minutes gone.
Dureau booted the ball out on the full from the re-start and another penalty for a late tackle from Michael Simon gave Wolves chance to strike again.
Down the narrow side, Trent Waterhouse linked with Ryan Atkins and the centre brushed off two defenders before slipping the ball to Chris Riley who cut inside the covering defenders to cross for his 13th try of the campaign. Hodgson’s third touchline conversion handed Wolves a deserved 20-6 advantage at the break.
Wolves got off to the worst possible start in the second half.
Monaghan had the ball stolen from him on the zero tackle and Catalan made him pay for the error.
Jamal Fakir scattered the Wolves defenders on the charge and although he was held up inches short by Hodgson the run paved the way for Simon to dive over from first receiver. Dureau’s extras meant Catalan had cut the gap to eight points two minutes into the second period.
It lifted the Catalan crowd and if Wolves had thought it was all over at half time it was time to think again, especially as they started to lose their composure.
A crazy offload from Atkins and crossing from Hodgson put Catalan in position to strike again and they did.
Ben Fisher spotted a huge hole from dummy half and exploded over from 15 metres for Dureau to leave Dragons only two points behind after 49 minutes.
Wolves needed to quickly stem the tide and they did via Wood crashing over from a lovely short pass by Briers. Hodgson was accurate with the boot again to make it 26-18 after 51 minutes.
It never looked like being enough though and Dragons got back to within four points when Duport shot through from Dureau’s pass in the 73rd minute.
Then came Bridge’s crucial match-winning score to put Wolves in the bag for the semi finals for the third time in four years.
Wolves: Brett Hodgson; Joel Monaghan, Chris Bridge, Ryan Atkins, Chris Riley; Lee Briers, Gareth O’Brien; Garreth Carvell, Micky Higham, Chris Hill, Ben Westwood, Trent Waterhouse, Ben Harrison. Subs: Simon Grix, Paul Wood, Mike Cooper, Tyrone McCarthy.