Danny Brough agonisingly missed a late conversion as Warrington held off a Wakefield comeback to win 34-32 at the Mobile Rocket Stadium.
Though at times the Wolves threatened to run away with the game, and perhaps even get the 26 point win they needed to go top of the ladder, Wakefield wouldn’t go away and they came desperately short to an astonishing late comeback.
Four tries in 13 minutes in the final quarter threatened to usurp what had been a 22 point deficit, but Brough’s final conversion shaved the wrong side of the post and in a dramatic finale, Warrington just held out.
Missing Tom Johnstone, Bill Tupou and Matty Ashurst from a potent left edge, things could hardly have got off to a worse start for Trinity, who conceded the game’s opening try inside five minutes.
It came down the re-shuffled left side, although it was more about the attacking play than the defensive efforts, as Toby King reached up to claim Dec Patton’s cross-field kick to score, perhaps the unfamiliar relationship between the Wakefield players on that side contributing to mis-communication under the ball.
The second try came five minutes later, Josh Charnley crossing in the corner after the Wolves shifted the ball right and when Chris Hill powered over to make it 18-0 after just 13 minutes, it looked like being a long night for the hosts, who entered the game celebrating the news that the club had completed the purchase of their Belle Vue home.
Warrington’s momentum was curbed by a controversial decision that denied Jake Mamo a try. Ben Currie had hit a gap in the Wakefield defence as a dummy runner in front of Patton, sucking in Danny Brough to make the tackle as Patton passed the ball left to Mamo, but that was surprisingly ruled to be obstruction.
Wakefield weren’t going to ask twice and they went up the other end and got themselves on the board, Brough delaying a pass nicely to allow Ryan Hampshire to nip through a gap and over the try line.
That gave Trinity a platform, though they would end the half 26-6 down after Blake Austin’s try and a Stefan Ratchford penalty shortly before the hooter.
There was little to hint at what was to follow, Ratchford nudging over an early second half penalty after a big Ryan Atkins break, and though David Fifita pulled a try back, Charnley’s second in the corner gave the Wolves what looked like a match-winning 34-12 advantage.
When Kyle Wood darted over on 64 minutes, it looked little more consolation, and even when he went over again three minutes later, a comeback didn’t look on the cards.
But as the noise ramped up, Wakefield grew in confidence, they came within a whisker of forcing golden point extra time.
Max Jowitt was found wide open with an offload in the left corner on 75 minutes, and off the back of a penalty, Trinity were piggybacked up the pitch and Joe Arundel took a ball to cross the line.
It was wide out and it looked like Brough’s conversion was going over, but it just drifted wide, perhaps even skimming the post on its way through.
There was still time on the clock for more drama, Ratchford knocking on a high kick with seconds to go and though that gave a few extra tackles on the line, even a Fifita grubber kick through couldn’t pinch the points.
Three talking points
Quiet quality from Austin
Man of the match Blake Austin entered the season as the heavy favourite for the Man of Steel award, and while he may not necessarily be grabbing the headlines, he is quietly showing his quality. Whether it is his leadership in defence, his kicking game or the blistering run that got Warrington on the front foot in the second half, he is head and shoulders above Tyrone Roberts from last season, and you get the feeling that Austin has something saved in his locker for the big games, and perhaps the finals, that the Wolves have been struggling to win in recent years.
Goal kicking proves the difference
If you could pick one player to have a go at that conversion at the end, Danny Brough would have been right up there. He was honest in his post-match interview, that the difference was he missed two, whereas opposing kicker Stefan Ratchford nailed seven from seven. It shows the value of a good goalkicker, and shows the Wolves were correct to take the two points on offer from penalties either side of half time.
Wakefield on the crest of a wave
Two consecutive top five finishes, an exciting team and now ownership of their Belle Vue ground. If Wakefield can get the re-development going as they hope, then what an exciting time to be a Trinity fan. Even without three of their finest players, they’ve pushed one of Super League’s best all the way, and they are certainly going to be in and around the play-off picture.
Wakefield: Hampshire, Jones-Bishop, Lyne, Arundel, Jowitt, Miller, Brough, Fifita, Wood, England, Pauli, Horo, Crowther. Subs: Arona, King, Kopczak, Hirst.
Tries: Hampshire, Fifita, Wood (2), Jowitt, Arundel. Goals: Brough 4/6
Warrington: Ratchford, Charnley, King, Atkins, Mamo, Austin, Patton, Hill, Clark, Cooper, Currie, Hughes, Philbin. Subs: J Clark, Tasi, Murdoch-Masila, Walker.
Tries: King, Charnley (2), Hill, Austin. Goals: Ratchford 7/7
A pulsating finale to what had looked like being a comfortable Warrington win at varying times of the game. The atmosphere and excitement generated in that final quarter by Wakefield, who refused to give up, was Super League at its best.
While Belle Vue perhaps isn’t the best advert for Thursday night live on TV, what a huge coup for the club to regain ownership, and as they continue on the crest of a wave thanks to their on-field performances, if they can press on with the development that will be a huge off-field positive.
Steve Price will have wanted his Warrington side to have put a message out at 34-12, when they could have even gone top of the table, but instead he’s facing a wake up call, and no doubt a timely one as they prepare for Hull next weekend.