In these embryonic weeks of the season it is the traits a side show in their moments of adversity, rather than the results, which offer the greatest hint of what may lie ahead. Take Warrington in the final moments here, for example. With their first win of 2020 long since secured, attention had turned to inflicting a “nilling” on the Super League champions for the first time in four years.
Had Jonny Lomax scored in the final seconds, it would not have soured the night for many Wire supporters. Wins against their great rivals are few and far between in the league; this was Warrington’s 15th in 68 meetings in the Super League era. But the manner in which they scrambled to deny Lomax – and celebrated afterwards – certainly said something.
As any critic of Warrington will point out, it certainly does not suggest their first title in 65 years is somewhat of an inevitability. But it hints at everything Steve Price would want to see from his side at this point of the year: determination, unbridled desire and togetherness. They are handy characteristics to have so early in the campaign.
“It’s only early days but we’re in a good place and we’re looking fast across the board,” Price said. Having battled commendably a man light for almost an hour at Wigan last week, they recorded their first victory of the season in a mightily impressive manner.
Granted the Wolves were facing a Saints side without a host of first-team regulars but, having emerged from a scrappy opening half-hour to lead by three scores at half-time, they killed the prospect of a comeback with Josh Charnley’s try shortly after the restart. “We’re certainly not getting carried away but we kept them to zero and we’ve got to build from that,”Price said.
Kristian Woolf’s reign as St Helens coach is only two games old but the circumstances surrounding this, their first league defeat since July, ensure he is facing the kind of crisis that his predecessor did not endure throughout their title-winning campaign last season.
Saints were already without five of the side who won last year’s Grand Final here when matters were made worse as Alex Walmsley pulled out minutes before kick-off. Mark Percival was injured midway through the game, leaving Woolf desperately short of strike power with the World Club Challenge against Sydney Roosters a fortnight away.
Woolf, however, was in no mood to hide behind his side’s problems. “We’ve got enough out there to win games of footy and enough out there to play better than what we did,”he said. “It doesn’t help but those injuries throw up a challenge. Tonight we didn’t take that challenge on. It was disappointing.”
A penalty from the boot of Stefan Ratchford was the only score of the opening half-hour but Warrington clicked into gear in the minutes before the break. Daryl Clark’s instinctive dummy-half finish made it 6-0,before last-ditch offloading allowed Tom Lineham the opportunity to squeeze over.
Ratchford converted to make it 12-0 before a drop goal from the outstanding Blake Austin opened up a three-score lead. Realistically the visitors had to score first after half-time to stand any chance but without so many frontline players – the Saints will be checking on a calf injury to Walmsley and a pectoral blow for Percival –it was no surprise that Warrington struck instead.
Another fine piece of handling created the space for Josh Charnley to touch down and by the time Ratchford had kicked another penalty attention had already turned to whether the Wolves could nil the Saints, rather than just win the game.
There were one or two nervy moments late on but that question was emphatically answered in the final seconds when they scrambled en masse to deny Lomax.
Warrington Ashton; Charnley, Gelling, King, Lineham; Austin, Ratchford; Philbin, D Clark, Cooper, Currie, Murdoch-Masila, J Clark. Interchange Akauola, Burrell, Walker, Davis. Tries Clark, Lineham, Charnley Goals Ratchford 3 Drop goal Austin
St Helens Welsby; Naiqama, Costello, Percival, Grace; Lomax, Fages; Lees, Bentley, Thompson, Taia, Peyroux, McCarthy-Scarsbrook. Interchange Paulo, Ashworth, Batchelor, Smith.
Referee C Kendall.