Fanzone: Life after Lee Briers

It’s always our year.

2011 was our year. A first League Leader’s Shield, and attacking prowess which at times bordered on the ridiculous. 2012 had to be our year. A Challenge Cup win looked to be the precursor to arriving at the promised land of Grand Final glory. 2013 was written in the stars. Half-time at Old Trafford and it would take a Titanic-like failure to separate us from the title.

In 2014 though, I don’t think even the staunchest of Wire fans would back us to be lifting the trophy come October. I’ve been watching Wire for as long as I can remember, and for all that time it has been no secret; when Briers isn’t on the field we’re not the same. Getting to grips with his departure, along with Morley, Carvell, Hodgson and other first team regulars like McCarthy and Cooper was always going to be a tough ask. To many in this town, calendars entered a new era this season. Not 2014 AD, but 1 PB (Post-Briers).

An opening night crushing by St. Helens was a bitter pill to swallow. The first 2 minutes aside, our pack lacked bite on both sides of the ball, indiscipline was rife and in the later stages our line speed was pedestrian and the team looked exhausted.

The most obvious shortfall for me, however, was in our halves. Richie Myler looked to be the apprentice who had been thrust into the lead role after the master’s departure, and as great a hooker as Michael Monaghan has been, never inspired a great deal of confidence as a half-back.

Credit to Saints, their young back line looks to be coming of age and I credit Nathan Brown for having faith in the likes of Swift, Makinson, and Josh Jones, all of whom are very dangerous.

For me, the most disappointing aspect of that night was the number of fans leaving early and berating players. Granted fans pay their money to watch the team; I do too, but no team has a God-given right to be successful and after the loss of personnel since last season a drop off in performance couldn’t have come as a shock. The issue for Wire wasn’t a lack of effort, but a lack of weaponry and some bad decisions resulting from chasing the game. To see fans (admittedly a small number) calling for players’ heads after one game of the new campaign wasn’t a high point, and, moreover, they were overlooking the big picture.

So, to Headingley. I’d be a liar if I said I expected Warrington to walk away with the two points, but I did predict a more spirited performance. In fact, I tipped Leeds to win by 6 all week. Leeds are obviously another team with a set of devastating backs and the line which Tom Briscoe picked for his try was as good as you’ll see from a winger. It would also be wrong if I didn’t mention Jamie Peacock who at 36 reinforced just how much of a warrior he is with 60 tackles in a 70 minute performance.

From Warrington though, there was a marked improvement from the week before. Our outside backs looking slightly more dangerous. I am very much a member of the Chris Riley fan-club, but he was dropped in favour of Gene Ormsby who turned in a debut which was overall very impressive, and this bodes well. Highly rated Anthony England also impressed with his physicality and if he turns into half the signing Chris Hill has proved to be this will be another astute bit of business from Tony Smith.

The forwards did put their hands up and withstood 4 back-to-back sets on our own line towards the end of the first half. Unfortunately when in the same position with ball in hand, Wire were very one dimensional. Hit-up after hit-up never looked like working and we looked like a team waiting for the ball to fall into the hands of Lee Briers which, of course, was never going to happen.

Moving forwards though I do genuinely believe Warrington will beat Hull this weekend, if for no other reason than blind faith. A possible debut for Matty Russell might see Ratchford push up to stand-off, although for the record I hope Gaz O’Brien sees a lot of pitch-time this year. The return of Simon Grix, one of a plethora of players in the running for Super League’s ‘Most Underrated Player’ award, is also a positive omen.

 

My prediction for the year is a recovery from a tough opening two rounds, ultimately finishing around 5th in the league and going down swinging in the playoffs. Of course, I hope I’m wrong but I do think there are certain sections of the Warrington fan-base who may need to lessen their expectations for the remainder of the year!

 

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