Warrington: Crisis?

Will Warrington ever wake up and realise their potential? That has got to be one of the main questions after yet another capitulation at the hands of neighbours St Helens.

They’ve got the financial backing that many clubs can’t even dream about, but still with a team full of internationals, they can’t shrug off the inconsistency that has plagued them throughout the twelve seasons of Super League.

Over the past two seasons they have improved their squad incredibly, bringing in established internationals in the shape of Stuart Reardon, Henry Fa’afili, Paul Rauhihi and for 2007, Adrian Morley, Paul Johnson and Vinnie Anderson. On paper, they look like a team that could challenge anybody. But on the pitch, it’s looked far from happening.

They’ve had their fair share of injuries in 2007, more so than most, but it’s time to put that behind them and start afresh. The side can’t seem to do that. Paul Cullen claimed that the second half of the season would be theirs after a thrashing of Salford, but home defeats to Harlequins and St Helens have made that look more like a shot in the dark than a genuine bet.

So where’s the problem? As the crowd starts to get on the Wolves’ back, the only faction who don’t deserve to be targeted are the board. Simon Moran and his team of directors have put their money where their mouth is and provided a new ground and the finance to sign the aforementioned group of players, so the fans can hardly complain about them.

Paul Cullen has been a great servant to the club, and it’d be a great shame to see him held as the scapegoat for their struggles. But as much as he can talk the talk, he’s yet to prove he can walk the walk. He has to leave the excuses in the locker room and shoulder part of the blame for the performances, but so should the players. Cullen is the man to take Warrington to the big time, and it’d be a blow to British Rugby League if he wasn’t given the chance.

The Wolves played some brilliantly rugby last season, and their run in the middle third of the season was unchallenged. That brilliant defeat of Leeds in the play-offs was perhaps overshadowed by the disappointing loss to Bradford, but 2006 was a step up for the Wolves, but in 2007, they seem to have gone backwards.

What about the players? Stuart Reardon seems to have lost all confidence at full back, not hitting anywhere near the displays that saw many acclaim him as one of our brightest prospects in the 2005 Tri Nations. Outside backs Henry Fa’afili and Richie Barnett have proved their ability in fits and starts, but are falling in to a trap of inconsistency, which seems to have knocked theirs, and Reardon’s, confidence.

Brent Grose hasn’t been the same player since Reardon came to the club, whilst Martin Gleeson has gone backwards in the past two seasons. Paul Johnson’s had bad luck with injuries, but it’s now time to hit the form that saw him become a Grand Final winner at Bradford, in his favoured centre position.

In the pack, Adrian Morley’s season hasn’t yet kicked off, injuries restricting him to a handful of appearances. Paul Rauhihi flatters to deceive, whilst indiscipline makes the hard work of Ben Westwood less appreciated. Is it a season too far for Mike Wainwright?

The bright sparks of the season for Warrington come in the shape of Vinnie Anderson and Jon Clarke. Kiwi Anderson must be up there as one of the signings of the season, and he has been showing the club what they need, consistency. His dynamic running and passing game has added a much needed extra dimension to the Wolves, and finally a playmaking alternative to Lee Briers. Clarke’s versatility, meanwhile, has proved priceless in the first half of the campaign, but what he needs now is to settle back in to the hooker position and start directing the Wolves pack around the field.

So what about Lee Briers? Brilliant at best, but if he’s not performing, then Warrington don’t perform. He is undoubtedly a quality player, but is the Wolves’ reliance on him proving their downfall? Is his stature at the club creating jealously amongst the players? Is it his inconsistency that’s laying the foundations for the rest of the team?

Who knows. But what we do know is that when Briers is at his best, he can be the best half back in Super League. The problem is, providing that sort of display every week, and making sure that a reliance on him isn’t a negative.

A problem for Warrington has been finding a half back partner to compliment Briers. Michael Sullivan has won over the fans after a slow start, and despite his claims that he prefers the half back position; he is much more comfortable and effective at 9. He was signed as a scrum half, but unfortunately hasn’t stepped up to the plate and made the 7 shirt his own.

Chris Bridge came in from Bradford, and started his Warrington days in the outside backs, but such has been the need to find a suitable half back partner for Briers, he has found himself slot in to the 6 shirt. Injuries have plagued him in the 2007 season, but even when in form last year, would he really get in to the starting 13 of any other team in Super League?

With just over half of 2007 gone, it’s a shame that looking to 2008 might be the only positive for Warrington fans. The club have already snapped up NRL stars Louis Anderson and Michael Monaghan, with the latter already claiming he wants to play at half back, rather than at hooker next season. That could pose a problem, with Anderson a favourable choice at stand off and Briers in the equation. Could Briers be sacrificed to make room for more big name signings? Unlikely, but it’d be interesting to see Anderson and Monaghan line up in the halves at the Halliwell Jones next season.

As much as Monaghan might not agree with it, the best line up for the Wolves in 2008 would be Anderson and Briers at half back, Monaghan at hooker, and Vinnie Anderson at loose forward. But, Vinnie could switch to the second row, and allow brother Louis to play 13, which would then accommodate Monaghan in the halves, with Clarke remaining at 9. What is definite though is that Cullen will have a wealth of quality options open to him next year.

One thing the Wolves fans may be able to grab on to for hope is the closeness of Super League this season. A few back to back wins, even just one, can propel a team from a relegation battle to the top six, and that competitiveness might just mean that Warrington can still cling on to their hopes of a play-off spot. But, with 12 games to go, they’ll have to start winning soon, or it might be bye-bye Mr Cullen.nn