The season is five games old, and already Warrington have gone from the sublime to the ridiculous.
They gained praise for their efforts in defeat against Wigan with 12-men, and then appeared to lay a marker with a 19-0 win at home to champions St Helens, who were admittedly missing a clutch of key players, which is now a distant memory following the 36-0 humbling at Leeds on Friday night.
Warrington haven’t won back-to-back games since June 8th, when they beat Catalans having triumphed against Hull KR in the Challenge Cup and Wigan at Magic Weekend in the weeks previous.
They have won seven out of their 20 games since, which includes their Wembley triumph over St Helens that at least meant silverware decorated the Halliwell Jones Stadium trophy cabinet at the end of 2019.
The holy grail of a league championship still evades the Wolves, and while it’s far too early to say this one may well not be their year, it’s clear that something is amiss.
A question I posed on Twitter over the weekend was whether Warrington are yet doing enough in terms of developing their own talent.
While it’s unlikely anyone will be able to up skill their academy to match the feats of Leeds, St Helens and Wigan – no coincidence that these are the most successful teams in Super League history, by the way – there must surely be more scope for Warrington to produce players good enough to bolster their squad.
Joe Philbin is the prime example of a local player who has punched well above his weight, no doubt helped by the sort of hometown pride that made Shaun Wane such an overwhelming success as coach up the road at Wigan.
Philbin was one of three homegrown players in the side against Leeds – the others being Mike Cooper and Ben Currie, and although Luis Johnson has played for the club’s under 19s side, he was brought over from Castleford for £45,000 a couple of years ago.
Whereas St Helens and Wigan will regularly blood youngsters to plug gaps in their sides, sometimes due to injury or suspension, Warrington get the cheque book out – the likes of Matty Davis and Keanan Brand brought in from other clubs in recent years to feature in the starting 17 on Friday.
The gamble on former England rugby union centre Luther Burrell shows no sign of paying off any time soon and for all the money the Wolves have spent, their bench was uninspiring. Even one player of note that they have produced, Harvey Livett, found himself dished out on loan to Hull KR this season.
Is there a fear that the players Warrington are producing just simply aren’t good enough? But without regular opportunities in the first team, how can anyone be sure.
Last season, academy products at Wolves made 163 appearances – with Cooper, Currie, Philbin, Toby King and Dec Patton responsible for 150 of those.
To compare, champions Saints had 317 across 17 different players, while Wigan spread 292 across 19 players. Huddersfield, who finished in the bottom half, managed to dish out 201 appearances to academy products.
The Wolves have made moves to sort out their off-field structures in recent years, and as such, they may well see an up-turn in academy products in the coming years.
That is surely the key now to them ensuring long-term success.
Their expensive half-back pairing of Blake Austin and Gareth Widdop has failed to fire so far, with Austin nowhere near the standards he showed in the first half of last season.
A failure to land a prop forward has been exposed, not least during Chris Hill’s ban, but by the bench options on Friday. The signing from Gold Coast Titans, Leilani Latu, may take a while to get up to speed, and though he did his best, looked below standard when turning out for Widnes on dual-registration recently.
The desperation for silverware and the elusive league title means Warrington perhaps lack a bit of culture, that can only be nurtured from within over a period of time.
Calls have inevitably been made for Steve Price to lose his job. It’s a bit early in the season for that, but the hangover from last season’s run piles on the pressure.
He reached the first three finals available to him on these shores, and has certainly warmed to Super League and the media during his time.
Only those inside Warrington will know how sure they are that the changes implemented at academy level will bear fruit and when.