The Challenge Cup holders maintained the steeliest of grips on their trophy yesterday as they booked a return to Wembley with a relentless display at the Stobart Stadium. Louis Anderson topped the individual honours with his first hat-trick for the club, but the likes of Michael Monaghan and Ryan Atkins were equally impressive as the Wolves ran riot at Widnes, with some breathtaking rugby.
The Catalans caught Wigan cold in a semi-final three years ago, but there was never the vaguest sign of a repeat performance. "We were never in the game, they were too good in all facets and the scoreboard could have been even uglier," said the Dragons' coach, Kevin Walters, who saw his side beat Warrington by a single point in Super League two weeks ago. "The way they played today, Warrington would have beaten anyone. "
The Wolves' Tony Smith wasn't so sure about that. "But when we play in that sort of mode, we're pretty tough to beat," he said.
The Catalans were deprived of Dallas Johnson by the imminent birth of his child in France, while Smith sprang a surprise by choosing to start with Richie Myler on the bench. "They worked over Myler pretty hard two weeks ago, so we thought we'd give him a break," he explained.
If Smith's plan was also to physically dominate the opposition from the start, it succeeded admirably. The pressure that produced the first try began with Casey McGuire fumbling at dummy-half, continued with an offside penalty and nearly paid off when Clint Greenshields narrowly beat Atkins to touchdown Monaghan's kick. From the drop out, Warrington continued to turn the screw, with Monaghan – starting at scrum-half ahead of Myler – feeding Ben Harrison, who wrestled through four tackles to score.
Four minutes later, Lee Briers kicked across field, Atkins leapt to claim it and lay the ball back for Louis Anderson, and the Wolves were already on their way back to Wembley.
The arrival from the bench of David Ferriol, quoted in the build-up as believing that Adrian Morley is a spent force, promised an interesting confrontation, but the rugby remained resolutely one-sided.
Atkins was having a storming game and it was his break that set up Matt King to sell a dummy and cruise over for the third Warrington try. The fourth was an extraordinary effort, Briers kicking for Chris Hicks and Monaghan putting in the second kick for Chris Riley on the opposite wing, with Ben Westwood landing his fourth goal for good measure. Greenshields went over for the Catalans just before half-time, but their muted celebrations suggested that they already knew it was too late for a salvage operation.
Paul Wood had one disallowed at the start of the second half after the Briers-Atkins combination opened up the Catalans again, but the scoreboard was soon in motion once more, courtesy of David Solomona's miracle pass behind his own back to release Briers. Louis Anderson's second and third tries – the latter from all of 70 metres – were separated by one from Myler, soon after his belated introduction into the fray.
Jon Clarke completed the Warrington scoring and, although Greenshields claimed his second shortly before the end, the Dragons had been put firmly in their place. The Wolves' place is at Wembley, where they will meet Leeds in a major final for the first time since 1936.
Warrington Mathers; Hicks, King, Atkins, Riley; Briers, Monaghan; Morley, Clarke, Carvell, Westwood, L Anderson, Harrison. Substitutes used Wood, Solomona, V Anderson, Myler.
Catalans Greenshields; Bell, Raguin, Carlaw, Walker; Bosc, Sherwin; Casty, McGuire, Fakir, Elima, Mounis, Sa. Substitutes used Ferriol, Guisset, Gossard, Simon.
Referee R Silverwood (Mirfield).
* Steve Ganson was replaced as video referee for yesterday's semi-final because he was in police custody after being arrested following an altercation at an hotel in Haydock the previous night. Merseyside Police said that Britain's leading referee had been arrested after an 87-year-old woman had been taken to hospital with serious injuries, which included a broken hip.