We’re back this side of the Pennines for our last 3 opposition fan previews, and it’s over to the Halliwell Jones Stadium as we get closer to the season’s start.
We have Russ, who helped us last year, Adam, who you will have seen braving a Redvee TV appearance after a Warrington defeat and Daniel who runs Warrington blog ‘A Loose Wire’ (aloosewire.blogspot.com/@aloosewire)
Our thanks to the three of them for taking the time to answer the questions…
First of all tell us a little about yourself…
RT: I’ve been watching RL now since 1977, my 1st game was Leigh V Wire at Hilton Park. Wire lost 8-4, Wire losing has been one constant throughout my time watching Warrington. I was at every one of those games when Saints had a 17 match unbeaten run against us ending at the Halton Stadium in 2011, the experience left me scarred. I have had breaks in watching the Wire the most notable being in the 90’s I worked virtually every weekend which meant for about 6 years I would only get to 5 games a season. I am a season ticket holder in the East stand there are about 10 of us who all go together. I don’t make every away game mainly due to work and cost but I do go to most. I retire this year so I intend to watch every single Wire game in season 2021.
AB: My name is Adam Berry I’m 27 and I’ve been following Warrington for over 20 years.
ALW: I’m Daniel and I run a Warrington Wolves blog called You’ve Got A Loose Wire. I’m a season ticket holder at the HJ in the East Stand and have been following the club since my early teens (I’m 24 now). I live in Leeds so I’m able to go to plenty of Yorkshire away games. Whilst I love rugby league, my first love was football and Liverpool FC – so life is incredibly exciting for me right now!
Sum up last season as a Warrington fan.
RT: With regards to last season, winning the Challenge Cup against Saints was our undoubted highlight. We won that game after a 5 game losing streak. To beat Saints so convincingly was most satisfying. However other than beating Wigan at Anfield at the Magic weekend the rest of our season & especially the end of our season was poor. I do think losing Blake Austin for about 8 games coupled with losing Kev Brown for the whole season did heavily impact, but the way we finished & fizzled out was wholly unacceptable. At the time of the Magic weekend we were joint top but after the 27 games we a very poor 4th some 20 points behind Saints and losing 13 games in the season. This was simply unacceptable.
AB: The season started quite with decent performances and few wins where we had to hang on. I.e. Wakefield away. There’s been some fantastic performances Hull away, Wigan at Magic and Saints at Wembley but there has also been some very disappointed performances like the league games against St Helens, the performances against Salford and the play off defeat at home to Castleford. For me the biggest shock/surprise was defeating Saints at Wembley especially without our marquee player in Austin. Our performances dropped consistently at the end of the season. There was times where we looked lost.
ALW: In answer to what went right, it’s a pretty short list! The Challenge Cup win is the obvious highlight, we were brilliant in both the semi-final and the final even though we were huge outsiders for both. Aside from winning that, the only positives came in the first half of the season. From February until early June, we were right in the fight for top spot and played some decent stuff along the way too. Unfortunately for us, the second half of the year was an absolute disaster and couldn’t have been more different from the first. We won 3 of our last 13 Super League matches, a disgraceful run. Add this to an at times unbearably boring playing style, and you realise what an unpleasant end to 2019 it really was. Bombing out of the playoffs in the first round at home was embarrassing and compounded a very unsatisfactory season. In terms of what went wrong on the field, a horrific lack of creativity in the halves was key – Declan Patton was largely useless all season and Blake Austin never maintained his early season form. I’d also cite the pack as a real area of weakness – far too many times Wire got absolutely dominated through the middle in games. Left-edge defence and shocking discipline meant that Wire conceded points far too easily. No real ball-playing centre and the absence of a first-choice loose forward didn’t help in terms of scoring points, particularly with our issues in the halves. Our negative style of rugby meant that players weren’t able to express themselves, and there was a huge over-reliance on Daryl Clark, Austin and Stefan Ratchford for creativity.
We welcome Toronto into Super League for the first time, meaning we now have 2 teams from outside of the UK taking part in Super League.
So in three parts: a) What are your thoughts on Toronto’s promotion, b) would you welcome more expansion teams from across Europe and/or North America and c) what would your ideal ‘domestic’ Rugby League competition look like in 20-30 years (e.g. Toronto to still be part of the Super League structure with other expansion teams, all expansion teams to be in their own strong domestic leagues, UK only super League etc.)
RT: a) I’m not in favour of Toronto or any long distance team joining SL, the impact on the UK players travelling 3,000 miles & then playing a game of RL then doing the same distance back is huge and will take its toll. I can foresee a lot of UK based teams flying over to Canada then losing the following week’s game due to fatigue.
b) I think the current structure with Catalans being the only overseas team is enough and any expansion should be with UK only teams.
c) In 20 years time I hope that SL is in a stronger position much like Rugby Union is now. TV rights deal is fundamental to where our game will be. Through a good TV rights deal we could raise our salary cap so that we can properly compete with RU & the NRL for the best players
AB: a) I’m not Toronto’s biggest fan. I would much prefer expanding clubs in places in the UK such as Newcastle/ Cumbria etc.
b) I would welcome more expansion teams in rugby league in general but in the UK such as Newcastle/Cumbria. When going to away games I love the atmosphere. i.e. when Warrington travel to Wigan & Saints the atmosphere is fantastic. By introducing new expansion teams around the world to rugby league or even super league it’s removing the atmosphere. So for me I wouldn’t want any other expansion teams in super league.
c) in the next 20-30 years I would like to think Warrington May win at old Trafford first of all. Secondly I would hope for teams like Bradford, Leigh, Widnes, a Cumbria team, even teams based in places like York, Newcastle, Manchester etc. to be involved in super league. I think these are the places where we should target expanding the game not overseas.
ALW: a) They won the Championship and won the Grand Final, so I can’t really have any issues I suppose. What I would say though is that in terms of fans, locality and accessibility, I’d have rather had Featherstone, York, Leigh, Widnes, Batley, Bradford, Dewsbury or Swinton up. What I will say is that I think their squad is very poor, and they’ll be fighting relegation rather than for the playoffs.
b) I’m not sure. I find the concept of it really tricky. For me, the Super League is meant to be predominantly a UK league and adding teams from so far afield takes away some of its identity in my opinion.
c) Long term, I’d like to see the game grow in Europe and North America to a point that they have their own league, just like we have here in England (and France). I’d also hope that Super League increases its numbers, as playing the same teams 3 and 4 times a season is getting tedious now.
How do you think the Wolves will go in 2020?
RT: In 2020 I expect Wire to finish top 3 & to make the GF any less than this would be an unacceptable season for us & could put Steve Price under a lot of pressure, particularly with the fans. An appearance at Wembley will rate as 2nd class with Warrington fans, without doubt we all want that GF win.
AB: I’d say we would hopefully finish in the top 4 however we need a few more signings especially in the forwards. Last year teams such as Saints, Salford, Wigan bullied us in the forward battle. I think with Widdop coming in will help us create more chances. I just feel we’re short in the forwards. I don’t think you can look past Saints and Wigan being the top 2 sides. Then you have us Hull FC, Leeds and maybe Castleford battling it out for the rest of the play off places. I would love more silverware this season even if it’s Wembley yet again. But the main one is old Trafford and to get this hoodoo off our backs. But I don’t think we have the quality to do that.
ALW: I’ve been very vocal about how concerned I am for the forthcoming season. I don’t think our recruitment is anywhere near up to scratch and I think many of our competitors have strengthened well. The way we ended 2019 was horrific and I can see us carrying that into 2020, particularly with the tough start of Wigan and St Helens in the first two games. In all honesty, I think we’ll finish outside of the playoffs, in 6th or 7th. If we do make the playoffs, it’ll be 4th or 5th, which for a club of our budget and stature, is ridiculous. We should be top three every year with Saints and Wigan, but I don’t think that will be the case this year. In terms of the Challenge Cup, we’ve done really well in that, and I expect that to continue – I think we’ll be in the final but it depends on the draw.
Are you happy with your recruitment this year – is there anywhere you feel you need to improve?
RT: Our most notable signing has to be that of Gareth Widdop, he will be our 2nd marquee player (along with Blake Austin). Quite simply, if Widdop & Austin click & play to their full potential ,we will have a great season. An area of concern for the Wire faithful is that Gareth has had notable injury problems these past few seasons and he is already injured for our 1st 3 games (Wigan & Saints are 2 of those 3 games). Our other signings are Anthony Gelling on a 2 year contract, Keenan Brand who is a young centre on a 3 year contract. Keenan was on the short list for championship young player of the year. The championship player of the year award went to another Wire recruit in Matty Ashton who scored 30 tries in 24 appearances for Swinton. Matty is said to be lightening quick and a potential wing star of the future. When signing Gelling there was some gnashing of teeth from Wire supporters, I think it best to say he is a bit of a marmite player in that people love him or can’t stand him. To be fair to Anthony he is still only 28 and plenty of Rugby years left in him. The players to leave the Wire in 2019 are Bennie Westwood (Retiring), Ryan Atkins (Wakefield), Bryson Goodwin (South Sydney Rabbitohs), Kevin Brown (Salford Red Devils), Jack Johnson (Featherstone), Lama Tasi and Pat Moran. Of those, SBW will be missed the most. Bennie has given everything for the P&B and will be a massive miss to our 2nd row. An area in which many Wire fans were hoping to strengthen was in the props. But to date we will go into 2020 with only 4 recognised props in Hill, Cooper, Sita A (can’t spell his surname) & Philbin. An injury to any of these players & we will struggle. Last year we had Pat Moran & Westwood to use in an emergency but not this year.
AB: I think the signings are mixed. I’m interested to see Ashton and Widdop (when fit) get on. I’m not quite sure why we signed Kibula from Wigan and I’m not sure what to think of Gelling and Latu who we’ve signed from Gold Coast. We’ll have to wait and see how they do.
ALW: I touched upon it in my previous answer, but no, not at all. Yes, Gareth Widdop is an excellent player and Austin-Widdop is probably the best halves partnership in the country, but my concern is how much we are actually going to see of him? We already know he won’t be available to start the season and he’s missed a lot of rugby in the last few years. We’ve signed some exciting youngsters – Keanan Brand and Matty Ashton – but I don’t trust that our coach will give them chances. Samy Kibula seems like a nothing signing, and as for Anthony Gelling, well I feel we have downgraded on Bryson Goodwin, who was one of the best centres in the league last season and one of our top performers. We haven’t addressed the loose forward issue and we’ve not properly strengthened our pack – I don’t think Leilani Latu will make much of a difference. There has been no addition of a ball-playing centre to supply Josh Charnley and Tom Lineham and everything just feels a bit too samey. The squad hasn’t been refreshed at all and we are likely to start the season just two players (Gelling and Latu – both downgrades) different from the one that ended 2019 so badly.
Golden point was used in Super League last year – what are your thoughts on the system?
RT: Last season saw the introduction of the Golden point for games that finished the game level after 80 minutes. I was and still not in favour of the GP, some games are just meant to finish as draws. For example, imagine London Broncos play at the TW stadium and after 80 titanic minutes its 20 points apiece & goes to the GP & Saints drop a goal denying Broncos anything for their 80 minutes of pure graft and grit. Some games are just meant to finish as draws.
AB: I think golden point was a success last season rather than settling for a draw after 80 minutes you’ll see teams being more expansive trying to throw the ball about so for me it’s a massive positive.
ALW: Hard to say as Warrington were one of only two clubs to not be involved in a golden point game in 2020. I quite like it, adds a bit of extra incentive to try and win the game.
Which one of your clubs players is the one to watch out for this season?
RT: As for a player to watch from the Wire, Gareth Widdop is the obvious choice, however I’m selecting Ben Currie. Ben had 2 injury ravaged seasons in 2017 & 18 & made a slow but steady return in 2019. Prior to his knee injuries Ben was playing superb & in an interview at the start of the 2017 Andrew Johns named Ben as one of the most talented forwards he had ever seen. So my Wire player to watch is Ben Currie.
AB: One to watch this season is Daz Clark. I think he’s an absolute star and has never normally has a bad game. Easily one of the best hookers in the world. You also have Austin, he was quiet in some games but he has the ability to change a game by himself. Also Joe Philbin, he’s getting better and better each season.
ALW: Tough question. Our best player is Daryl Clark but in terms of one to watch out for, I’ve picked Ben Currie. This is a man who returned from two horrid injuries to barely miss a minute of 2019. Currie needs to have a huge 2020 after a season which saw him look like a bit of a shadow of his former self, with some poor defensive showings and little in the attack either. We all know how good Currie was before his injuries, scoring 21 tries from the second row in 2016 with his blistering pace being a constant threat to the opposition. Steve Price has said that with a full pre-season behind him, he expects to see the best of Currie this year, which would be huge for us as it would be another great attacking outlet and if he can improve his defensive work, our left edge should become stronger. Currie is out of contract at the end of 2020 so is possibly playing for his future at the club, which would’ve sounded crazy not so long ago.
Which of your young players is most likely to make a name for themselves this season?
RT: There are 2 young Wire players to watch out for in 2020. They are Matty Ashton who I have already mentioned & Luis Johnson who we signed 12 months ago from Cas. At the time Luis signed he was rated as another star of the future. Unfortunately Luis did not break through in 2019 & made only a few 1st team games. 2020 will be a massive season for Luis. So my Wire young player to watch out for in 2020 is Luis Johnson.
AB: I don’t think you’ll see much of our young players get a chance. I think players like Josh Thewlis and Riley Dean got their chances last year due to injuries. I would probably say Luis Johnson will get more game time since we haven’t recruited much in the forwards.
ALW: There are a few decent youngsters. I think Joe Philbin has gone beyond the ‘young player’ bracket now, though is turning into an excellent player. Danny Walker is a real talent but won’t get much time on the pitch because of Daryl Clark’s importance. I’d like to think Keanan Brand and Matty Ashton will play a fair bit but I’m not sure. Josh Thewlis looked really good in his two appearances last season, while there are high hopes for Riley Dean. Luis Johnson is someone I want to see more of after a good loan spell at Hull KR last year. The problem really is that our coach very rarely gives youth a chance.
RT: Top 5: Saints, Wire, Wigan, Leeds & Hull (not in any order, apart from Saints winning the LLS); Grand Final: Saints & Wire; Champions: Wire will break their 65 year wait; Challenge Cup: The final will be between Leeds & Hull with Hull winning; Relegated: Toronto/ I think 6,000 mile fortnightly round trips across the Atlantic will be too much for them and even Sonny Bill Williams won’t save them.
AB: Grand Final: Saints v Wigan; Champions: Wigan. As good as Saints were last year I think Wigan (unfortunately) might edge it due to the signings they have made; Challenge Cup: Saints. I wouldn’t mind us again but I would probably say Saints v Leeds final with Saints winning the cup. I think Leeds will improve a lot this season. Finally to be relegated I think either Wakefield or Hull KR. I don’t think Wakefield have made that many changes and with how badly they performed last year I wouldn’t be surprised if they get relegated. Again I think Tony Smith keeps Hull KR up.
ALW: 1. St Helens – I don’t think they’ll be quite so dominant, but still the best team by a distance, 2. Hull FC – To me it looks like they have recruited better than anyone with the likes of Fonua, Ma’u and Jones, 3. Wigan – Hastings will do well, as will Burgess and French. Not sure Lam is a good enough coach to have them top two again, 4. Leeds – I think Lui and Gale will be great in the halves, while Leeming and Mellor are understated, but really good, purchases, 5. Catalans – They’re due a good season. The signing of Maloney should give them some quality and I think Drinkwater will rediscover his form there.
Grand Final will be Saints v Hull, I expect Saints to retain their title. The Challenge Cup has been our forte recently, reaching three of the last four finals, so I’m pretty confident that we’ll be at Wembley, though who against I have no idea – depends entirely on the draw. I think Leeds could possibly be a cup team this year. Relegation will be between Hull KR, the vastly overrated Toronto and Huddersfield, with the Giants being the ones to go down.
Who will be Man of Steel? Do you agree with the way the votes are given out?
RT: I’m going for Daryl Clark from Warrington. But Hastings from Wigan, Thompson & Lomax from Saints, and Widdop from Wire will all run Daryl close and injuries will play their part. Prior to being injured in June last season Blake Austin was way out in front of Jackson Hastings. I think the way the votes are decided by an experienced panel with the players having the final say is a good way to choose MoS.
AB: For Man of Steel either Daz Clark or Johnny Lomax. I’m not too sure what to think of the MOS votes. I’m not too sure how it works.
ALW: From a Warrington point of view, I’d like to see Daryl Clark win it as he’s been our best player for years and for me is the most consistently excellent performer in the competition. Bevan French at Wigan and Manu Ma’u at Hull might be decent outside bets, though it’s hard to imagine the likes of Lachlan Coote, Blake Austin, Jackson Hastings, Liam Watts and Luke Gale will be too far away from the discussion. It wouldn’t surprise me if a big-name signing like Gareth Widdop or James Maloney, or more likely Sonny Bill Williams end up being shoehorned in.
As for the system, I find it really hard to agree with any system that doesn’t include Jonny Lomax in its top five players from last year, when he should’ve been the runaway winner.