The perplexing decline of Warrington Wolves

Sport has a way of making things happen that cannot be explained or vindicated.

Warrington’s wretched 2017 campaign is one of those.

Even the most blissfully naive Warrington fans will concede this year has been nothing short of a disaster.

Their latest defeat to Wakefield has all but condemned them to a Qualifiers berth. Only a huge turnaround would help them escape the bottom four, but the reality is the Wolves haven’t mustered up any sort of evidence that suggests they can change their fortunes around that quick.

As their fans watched on during their defeat to Wakefield, there was an evident sense of disbelief amongst their fans that quickly turned into anger.

The Wolves have been blessed with incredibly gifted squads for years, and their class of 2017 is no different. The likes of Kurt Gidley, Daryl Clark, Chris Hill and Stefan Ratchford are elite-level players in a squad that boasts an array of talent.

Just last week, the club landed another international in Peta Hiku, the Kiwi who played in the Test series between New Zealand and England in 2015.

But their performances this year have been bitterly disappointing for a side that should be competing at the right end of the table.

Staggeringly, it’s their attack that has so badly let them down.

They are the lowest scorers in Super League, having scored just 334 points in the first 20 games of the season, an average lower than 17 points per game. Last year, they had the best attack in the division, scoring almost 30 points per game.

Their regression is alarming. Most ominously, it’s hard to put a finger on why they are dealing with their current woes. Even Tony Smith, a man who rarely shows signs of feeling the pressure, looked flustered and frustrated following their latest setback.

It was perhaps the most frustrating viewing of the campaign. The Wolves had two large spells of dominance in both halves of the match, but they looked incapable of breaking down Wakefield for the majority of that time.

They tried everything to get through Wakefield, but the skill and ruthlessness that defines Warrington as a team wasn’t there. By the end, the Wolves had no shape and threw the ball around aimlessly.

Warrington have a number of key injuries in their backline that are clearly hindering them, but the real concern is that the players look inhibited.

Their pack, widely regarded as the best in Super League last year, was out-muscled by Wakefield last week. As a result, Daryl Clark isn’t getting the speed he desires to be at his devastating best around the ruck, and Warrington are struggling to overawe teams like they did last year.

Perhaps the biggest factor is the departure of Chris Sandow.

Sandow walked out on the club last year.

The halfback walked out on the club, and with it went one of their most potent threats.

Smith insisted it wasn’t that big an issue, describing the livewire as a ‘pain in the proverbial’. But without his creativity and unpredictability, Warrington are easier to defend against, as proved by the stats.

Their acquisition of Kevin Brown was met with scepticism after his move from Widnes Vikings. So far, it hasn’t worked, to the point that Brown has become the scapegoat of the fans online.

Now they are tasked with avoiding relegation. On paper, the prospect of the Wolves going down is utterly ludicrous, but so was their current plight.