Warrington look more and more like title challengers

Things are shaping up nicely for Warrington Wolves. They might sit third in the engage Super League table behind Huddersfield Giants and the unbeaten Castleford Tigers, but with convincing wins over St Helens and Leeds Rhinos there’s no doubting that Warrington are the team of the moment. In the opinion of bookies and many fans the Wire are firmly among the favourites for the Super League title, perhaps second only to current champions Wigan Warriors.

It’s early days yet – after all there are still 23 rounds of regular season to be played – but the Wolves’ impressive form simply can’t go unnoticed.

Warrington picked up their first points of the season with a hard-fought 24-22 victory over Hull KR, but it was their defeats of St Helens and Leeds that made the Wolves the biggest threat to Wigan’s chances of retaining the Super League title. Warrington, of course, have come close to St Helens so many times in recent years, but simply could not get a win over their local rivals. On this occasion they led 18-0 at half time and survived one of St Helens’ famous comebacks to post a 25-18 win, so the main importance of this victory was its morale-boosting effects in removing Saints’ psychological edge over Warrington. 

In fact, Warrington were so pleased that they brought out this commemorative t-shirt:
http://shop.warringtonwolves.org/3955/products/Monkey_Off_Our_Back_Navy_T_Shirt.aspx

Saturday’s win over Leeds in that sense wasn’t quite so special – Warrington have beaten the Rhinos a couple of times in recent seasons, including an 18-17 win in the 2006 Super League play-offs and, of course, last season’s 30-6 Challenge Cup final victory. But it was important step. By beating Leeds 40-24 the Wolves showed a champion quality – the ability to back up from a top performance and put in another top performance the following weekend.

In addition to this, the performance of Warrington’s younger players against Leeds is also something to be celebrated, most notably 18-year-old Rhys Evans who on debut scored the Wolves’ opening try and with help from Chris Riley set up a try for Richie Myler. The youth set up does appear promising – last season Warrington u20s finished top of the table after the regular season, only being knocked out of the play-offs by eventual champions Wigan. Warrington fans can legitimately feel optimistic about the future on the pitch – off the pitch too, as the Halliwell Jones Stadium is set to expand from a capacity of 13,000 to 15,000 by 2012.

However, when it comes to this season Warrington have a long way to go before hopes of Super League glory can be realised. The next three games will provide further indication of whether they can go all the way. The first is against Wakefield, a game that Warrington should win under any circumstances; the second is against Harlequins, a game that Warrington should be winning if they want to be title contenders. If the Wolves can’t pick up all four points here then questions will be asked over consistency; whether Warrington can perform just as well as when they’re not motivated by the thought of playing against the top teams.

The third game comes against Wigan, at the DW Stadium on March 25th. If the Wire have picked up all four points against Wakefield and Harlequins, then a win against Wigan could make them out-and-out favourites for the Super League title this season.

* It was a shame that none of the amateur teams in this year’s Challenge Cup third round could upset the odds against professional opposition, although most gave a good account of themselves, notably Thatto Heath and Leigh Miners. By contrast, Northumbria University suffered a 132-0 loss to York City Knights. Yet despite being so thoroughly outclassed the students were a credit to the sport, not engaging in any foul play, and fighting on until the very end, despite backing up from a very tough mid-week fixture against Newcastle.

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