“You’re going down,” was the jovial cry from the Wigan supporters as they extended Warrington’s remarkable losing run at the start of the new Super League season – and while that may be an exaggeration, this is quite a story developing at the bottom of the embryonic table.
There was a reason Warrington were tipped by so many to be among the runners and riders at the top. They reached both major finals last year and hopes were perhaps rightly high that the Wolves could challenge again in 2017.
It is still far too early to write them off but the fact they look so shorn of confidence is a worrying prospect following the opening month.
But it is only fair to acknowledge the brilliance of the reigning champions, Wigan – and in particular of George Williams. Warrington could not live with the Warriors, who were without nine first-team regulars on the night and showed once again that they are never to be underestimated.
That the rugby league world has such a fervour about it for Williams at the age of 22 underlines what a talent he is. Super League has made no secret recently of its desire to ensure the competition’s top English talent stays put as opposed to testing themselves in the NRL or, whisper it quietly, rugby union.
And if a list is being drawn up behind closed doors of the players who are a priority for Super League to keep hold of, Williams must be somewhere near the top – even if his coach was not ready to lavish the half-back with individual praise.
“He can play a lot better,” the Wigan coach, Shaun Wane, said.
“He was poor early on and made some bad decisions but then he came up with some magic on some players. We won’t be patting each other on the back.” Warrington’s Tony Smith had said before this game that he enjoyed the way Wigan were playing but by half-time he may have had second thoughts on that.
The Warriors were sensational during the opening 40 minutes, Williams spearheading Wigan’s crusade into a 20-6 half-time lead they never once looked like surrendering.
There is little doubt Warrington are “doing it tough” as Smith alluded to post-match – but the fact this four-game losing streak was punctuated with a convincing win against Brisbane in the World Club Series makes this all the more peculiar. “I’ve got a dressing room full of boys who are hurting,” Smith said. “When we ride through this we’ll be glad we went through it.”
That may be true but what is also undeniable here was how far behind Wigan the Wolves were all night. By the end of the opening quarter Wigan were 16-0 ahead courtesy of two tries for the young winger, Liam Marshall, and one for Anthony Gelling – all of which the excellent Williams had a hand in.
Marshall is one of five members of Wigan’s first-team squad whose fathers also played for the club – and he would finish with four tries on the night.
His third was perhaps the most crucial, though; Warrington had reduced the 20-0 lead Wigan had established to 20-6 and were threatening a rally before Marshall pounced on a loose ball to race the length of the field.
After that Wigan never really seemed to be in any danger – a fine measure of how their season has begun despite so many injury problems.
A month ago these two sides were both beating NRL opposition in the World Club Series – the contrasting paths their seasons have taken since then is nothing short of remarkable.
Warrington Gidley; Russell, Blythe, Atkins, Lineham; Brown, Livett; Cooper, Clark, Sims, Hughes, Westwood, Westerman. Interchange Dwyer, Philbin, Savelio, Evans. Tries Atkins, Evans, Lineham Goals Gidley 2.
Wigan Escare; Forsyth, Gelling, Isa, Marshall; Williams, Leuluai; Nuuausala, Powell, Flower, Tomkins, Farrell, O’Loughlin. Interchange Clubb, Tautai, Navarrete, Wells. Agencies
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