Warrington Wolves will hope to keep their Super League season alive when they face Hull FC next Saturday after the Airlie Birds’ 46-10 win over Huddersfield Giants on Sunday saw them progress to Week Two.
The Wolves, who won the Challenge Cup in August for the third time in four years last month, have been heavily fancied to complete the double at the Grand Final in October but lost their opening play-off against St Helens, meaning they have to win a sudden clash against the Black & Whites at the Halliwell Jones Stadium to make it to the semi-finals.
The defeat to Saints has led to questions of whether Warrington’s play-off hoodoo is coming to haunt them once again with the club still searching for its first Grand Final appearance.
Following their Cup success of 2010 the Wolves, from 3rd in the league, lost both their play-off matches to bow out short of the semi-final stage. And only last year after finishing top of the pile, the Wolves failed to make it to Old Trafford going down 26-24 in a nail biting semi-final against Leeds.
Coach Tony Smith has rotated his large squad regularly throughout the season to ensure the Wolves remain fresh for the business end of the year and so it is maybe ironic that Warrington’s play-off charge has been hitherto blighted by injury news. Smith was dealt a double-injury blow going into last weekend with powerhouse second-row Ben Westwood ruled out with medial knee ligament damage and Ben Harrison missed out, too. Dream Team member Westwood will not be available for Saturday’s clash versus Hull, although Harrison is expected to return.
And the Wolves are still assessing whether prop Garreth Carvell will be able to feature after he picked up back spasms in the first half against Saints, although they are confident that fullback Brett Hodgson will be in the side despite the back injury he picked up on the weekend.
Not that Warrington’s defeat can be put down to misfortune with injuries, as the Wolves were overcome by a determined Saints’ defensive performance as the Wire attack was unable to find any real fluidity.
They will look to put their campaign back on track in the do-or-die clash with Hull, who enter the match with a bit of momentum continued by their victory against a thoroughly dissapointing Huddersfield Giants on Sunday.
With a massive army of travelling support behind them, Hull will travel to Warrington with belief that they can cause an upset and eliminate the bookies’ favourites from the competition. The sitation is reminiscent of two years ago when Nathan Brown’s 5th-placed Huddersfield went to Cup winners Warrington at this stage and turned them over to gatecrash into the semi-finals and knock the Wolves out.
Smith’s men will believe they are better equipped for the occasion this time and will look to bounce back and do their league season justice in the play-offs this time around.
- The routine win for Hull on Sunday was the last match of another hit and miss opening week of the play-offs. Wigan’s easy 46-6 win over 4th placed Catalans on Friday was an extremely disappointing game, as was Sunday’s at the KC Stadium. Sandwiched between were two games on Saturday which lived up more to what we expect from play-off games. Warrington-Saints was scrappy at times but still a frenetic and entertaining affair whilst Wakefield’s brave underdog’s performance at Leeds straight afterwards was not done justice by the eventual 42-20 scoreline.
- Last year’s opening week proved an underwhelming flop with three of the four Week One matches proving to be anti-climaxes. And this year has seen the first week prove to be another Phony War, despite all four fixtures promising to be intriguing affairs. It is clear there is simply not enough quality in Super League at the moment to justify the extended 8-team format. Add to that the visible flaws of the system, such as the severe under-rewarding of the top sides, with the top 2 still having to win two matches to make it to the Grand Final, and the strong possibility of repeat fixtures in Week Three and it is more understandable why the first week of the play-offs often result in attendances much lower than the corresponding matches in the regular league. The play-offs are supposedly matches of excitement and high-intensity to decide who will be the champions of the year and to provide a thrilling climax to the season. Whilst we should still be in for that kind of entertainment over the next three weekends, it seems we have to go through a damp squid before we get to the really important games. Here’s to hoping the play-offs will be lit up by the two intriguing fixtures this weekend.
On to next week and I will now take a look ahead to this weekend’s games:
Week Two fixtures
Friday: Catalans Dragons V Leeds Rhinos (8pm – Stade Gilbert Brutus)
LSMedia prediction: Leeds win by 8.
The Dragons were extremely dissapointing at Wigan and should put up a much sterner fight against Leeds in front of their home crowd. But having got over the Wakefield banana skin, Leeds look good to make it to the semi-finals for me.
Saturday: Warrington Wolves V Hull FC (6pm – Halliwell Jones Stadium)
LSMedia prediction: Warrington by 10.
I expect Warrington, with some returning troops to be able to bounce back and lift themselves to be able to see of the Black & Whites, who will head to the Halliwell with nothing to lose. Surely this Wolves side is too good to flop at this stage.
Club Call prediction: Wigan to shock nobody on Sunday by choosing to play the lowest-ranked side remaining in the semi-finals, sending the supposedly tougher opposition to play St Helens. (Well, some things you can be certain of getting right).
- Bradford Bulls, it has been confirmed will be able to participate in Super League for 2013 under their new ownership with the club awarded a one-year probationary license. It is believed the Bulls will be slashed half of their share of money allotted to all clubs from Sky Sports as a sanction in addition to the 6-point deduction they received during the 2012 season. The announcement has been greeted with mixed responses. Some Super League clubs expressed their desire to keept the Bulls in the top-flight, whilst others, including Hull KR chairman Neil Hudgell have been fiercely critical of the decision.