Frustrated Wolves fail to fulfil potential
Five things we learned from Warrington Wolves’ season
1: The Wolves wait will continue. They have never won the Super League title and for many years the club and its fans have wanted to right that perceived wrong. But it wasn’t to be, even though the Wolves racked up eight successive Super League victories that straddled the lockdown and put them in a strong position to make their challenge. Sadly, their season ended without a trophy and their record of being also-rans in Super League continued for another year.
2: Big signings don’t necessarily lead to big results. The Wolves snapped up Gareth Widdop in the close-season, reportedly on the biggest contract in Super League. But Widdop, whose family returned to Australia during the course of the season, never quite lived up to his star billing and was continuously linked with a return to the NRL, although the Wolves have insisted until now that he will still be at the Halliwell Jones Stadium in 2021.
3: The Wolves will need to develop a new forward pack soon, given that their two prop forwards, Chris Hill and Mike Cooper, are now aged 33 and 32 respectively, while they have also lost their Tongan loose forward Ben Murdoch-Masila, who will play for New Zealand Warriors in 2021.
4: Big signings from rugby union don’t seem to work. The Wolves signed England rugby union centre Luther Burrell from Northampton RUFC during the 2019 season, but Burrell failed to command a regular spot in the matchday squad, playing only five games off the bench in 2020 before being released in September to return to rugby union.
5: Salford Red Devils are Warrington’s bogey team, ending their winning sequence in the last game of September, before repeating the exercise four days later, on each occasion winning by two points. It came after the Wolves lost all three Super League games against the Red Devils in 2019.
Throughout the season the Wolves had a three-way battle against St Helens and Wigan in the battle for the League Leaders’ Shield and at the end of the season the Wolves finished in third place, tied on percentages with second-placed Saints but with a worse scoring difference. It meant that they had to play in the opening week of the play-off, when they went down to a disappointing 14-27 home defeat to sixth-placed Hull FC to end their season.
The Wolves hammered Super League Champions St Helens 19-0 in Round 2 of the season on 6 February, even though they were without star players Gareth Widdop, Chris Hill and Gareth Widdop, but they discovered a new young star in Matty Ashton, whose performance at fullback demonstrated his lightning pace and anticipation.
Warrington’s season came to a disappointing end with that 14-27 defeat to Hull FC in the opening week of the play-offs. The Wolves were missing the inspirational Mike Cooper for that game, and his absence was crucial as Warrington’s season ended with a whimper rather than a bang.
Undoubtedly the key player for Warrington in 2020 was prop forward Mike Cooper (left), whose statistics demonstrate his contribution to the Wolves’ cause. Cooper made 1,776 metres from 246 carries, marginally fewer in each case than Josh Charnley, while he made 37 offloads (only behind Toby King) and 447 tackles, finishing third behind Ben Currie and Daryl Clark.
Best young player
Although Matty Ashton made a massive impression in his rookie season, he had already turned 21 at the start of 2020. But Danny Walker was aged 20 at the start of the season, and he would play 16 games in total, providing great backup to Daryl Clark and looking like a player with great promise in the long term.
Best overseas player
Although he perhaps didn’t make the impact he made in his first season with the Wolves, Blake Austin played in 18 of Warrington’s 20 matches in 2020, scoring eight tries and landing four field-goals, which on two occasions resulted in one-point victories for the Wolves.
Try of the year
There were plenty to choose from, but Matty Ashton’s first try for the Wolves, when he broke the Toronto line and then rounded the opposition fullback, was both a special try and perhaps a symbolic one for his Warrington career.
Quote of the year
“I can’t wait to get over there and play for a club that has so much rich heritage. To get the opportunity to live in the UK and to play for such a powerhouse club that I believe is on the rise is something I’m looking forward to and hopefully I can add value to the team.” Aussie superstar Greg Inglis, quoted in May when the club announced that the former Golden Boot winner would be coming out of retirement to head to the Halliwell Jones Stadium in 2021.
Image of the year
New signing at the start of the season, Matty Ashton, whose blistering pace while dashing downfield and scoring tries lit up Warrington’s performances on several occasions during the season.
Towards the end of their last game of the season, the Wolves were 21-14 down against Hull FC when Ben Currie was tackled near his own line and was pushed back into his own in-goal. Gareth Widdop stripped the ball from Currie but lost possession and Jake Connor dropped on it to score the final try of the game, ending Warrington’s season in frustrating fashion.
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