The fourth place finish that Warrington Wolves achieved in last season’s Super League was an encouraging progression from the previous year’s ninth and has led to high hopes that the team can build on it again this time out.
It is still very early days of course, but it is impossible for fans not to be encouraged by the start the team has made, with three straight wins to start the new season.
What makes the start all the more impressive is the fact that the Wolves were dealt a huge injury blow on the eve of the season, when star playmaker Kevin Brown picked up an injury to his Achilles that threatens to rule him out for the season. This was undoubtedly a major disruption to the plans of head coach Steve Price, but so far his side has adjusted better than anyone could have expected.
The new season got underway with a 26-6 home thrashing of Leeds Rhinos, and arguably the final score did not fully reflect the Wolves’ superiority. They dominated the first half of the match almost totally; scoring three tries without reply to lead 20-0, although things might have been different had Ash Handley scored with an early chance for Leeds. Jack Hughes spent time in the sin bin for fouling him to prevent this, but it was while they were a man short that the Wolves took control of the match. A try from new boy Blake Austin wrapped things up in the second half of what was a commanding home performance and one that ensured that any bet calculator would tell you gambling on Warrington for the league probably won’t make you rich.
It is dangerous to read too much into a single game, but handed a second home match, the Wolves set about proving it was no fluke. The team started slowly again and were punished for it this time as Hull Kingston Rovers led the game twice during the first half – and indiscipline was again a factor with Austin being sent to the sin bin for what was deemed a dangerous challenge. The turning point of this match was a try by Tom Linehan at the end of the first half that gave the Wolves a 12-8 lead going into the break and they profited from mistakes by Hull KR in the second period to score another three. Although neither of the team’s expensive new signings, forward Jason Clark and half-back Blake Austin, scored in this match, both look like they will add the quality needed for a real shot at the league title.
The first match away from home was against Huddersfield Giants and brought the Wolves their first win at that ground for five years in resounding fashion. A 16-4 lead at half time did not fully reflect their superiority against the league’s bottom side. Austin was the key man for the Wolves, playing a central role in the three tries scored during that period, including a wonderful grubber kick that drew a mistake from Akuila Uate for the first try and a pass to Josh Charnley for number three. This is what Warrington were expecting from Austin when they paid big money for him and if he continues to be this influential they may not even miss Kevin Brown. Admittedly the Giants did battle back a bit after McGilvary scored their first try, followed by another try and conversion early in the second half, but further Warrington tries from Atkins and Austin showed that the team can be resilient when under pressure. They currently sit second in the table, although it is already clear that the likes of Castleford Tigers and St Helens – both of whom also have one hundred percent records – will provide stiff competition for the league title.
The matches played so far this season do suggest that hopes of a serious Super League challenge from the Wolves this year were not misplaced. They look strong in all areas and the new signings have settled very quickly. If Blake Austin in particular maintains form and fitness they could yet win a first league title since 1954/55.