Pictures Eddie Whitham
WARRINGTON Wolves sent out a message to Super League with an impressive 19-0 defeat of reigning champions St Helens.
They backed up their valiant display in defeat at Wigan with an all-round performance against Saints, coming on top after an opening quarter arm wrestle, scoring when they needed to and not giving their opponents a sniff in return.
A fine team try from Josh Charnley sealed the deal in the second half and they stood firm in defence in a benchmark display.
St Helens were dealt a blow ahead of kick-off with Alex Walmsley forced to pull out after the warm-up with an apparent calf injury, replaced in the starting line-up by Matty Lees and Joe Batchelor coming in off the bench.
On a fine Super League occasion, the two went toe-to-toe from the off and such was the tightness of the opening, it was perhaps a surprise that Saints neglected to take a simple two from in front of the posts after Wire were pegged for offside on 12 minutes.
Young full-backs Matty Ashton and Jack Welsby went head to head and it was a case of who would blink first under the pressure, and it proved to be Welsby, who knocked on a Blake Austin kick, and from the subsequent set of six, a high-shot on Austin by Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook prompted a score opening penalty from Stefan Ratchford just shy of the quarter mark.
Warrington started to get on top of the reigning champions and a fine break by Anthony Gelling on his home debut got the Wolves on the front foot again, Austin’s kick early in the tackle count chased by Josh Charnley, his efforts in tackling Regan Grace almost creating a try but the ball just squirmed from his grasp.
They thought they had got over for the first try on 26 minutes, only for Daryl Clark to be denied by the video referee having been held up in goal.
The Halliwell Jones Stadium crowd got their first real taste of Matty Ashton excitement as he raced on to a short pass from Clark, broke a couple of tackles and was only just grounded by Jonny Lomax 10 metres out, only to then be penalised as he passed out right having got caught up in the thrill of the break no doubt.
A try finally came on the half hour mark, Kevin Naiqama spilling a high kick and from the next set of six, Clark would this time successfully get over from dummy half, though Ratchford missed a relatively routine conversion.
Ratchford though played his part in the second try, his high kick wasn’t dealt with by Saints, Ben Currie keeping it alive for Ratchford to wriggle free and find Toby King, who put Tom Lineham in for a try that still needed some finishing by the ex-Hull winger.
The conversion was successful from the touchline as Ratchford atoned for his earlier miss, and Wire would take a three-score lead in to the changing rooms when Austin tagged an uncontested drop goal with the last play of the half.
A response from Saints was expected, though save for a repeat set forced by Welsby, the cavalry never came. From that repeat set, a brilliant tackle by Ratchford denied Naiqama in the corner and that would be the closest the visitors got.
At the other end, Warrington extended their lead to 17-0 when off a repeat set of their own, a brilliant move saw the ball shifted through multiple hands to the right for a walk in for Charnley.
The Wolves wobbled a little and were handed a team warning by referee Chris Kendall after conceding a flurry of penalties, but they looked like they had all the answers to Saints’ questions.
A bizarre penalty when Mike Cooper’s head bandage came off via the hand of Matty Lees in a tackle enabled Ratchford to make it 19-0 from nearly half way, making it a four-score game and ending any lingering doubt over the result.
Saints pushed for a score in the final 10 minutes, Charnley twice dealing well with kicks from Theo Fages and Jonny Lomax, and even when Lomax thought he had scored with barely two minutes on the clock, the video referee said no and the champions were nilled for the first time since losing 25-0 at Wigan in August 2016.
Warrington: Ashton, Charnley, Gelling, King, Lineham, Austin, Ratchford, Philbin, Clark, Cooper, Currie, Murdoch-Masila, Clark. Subs: Akauola, Walker, Burrell, Davis.
St Helens: Welsby, Naiqama, Costello, Percival, Grace, Lomax, Fages, Walmsley, Bentley, Thompson, Taia, Peyroux, McCarthy-Scarsbrook. Subs: Lees, Ashworth, Paulo, Smith.