Lee Briers’ third stab at a drop goal decided this gripping Super League game as the Wolves claimed the scalp of reigning champions Leeds. Briers’ kick two minutes from time reflected Warrington’s general supremacy, but a depleted Leeds deserved better.
The Warrington coach, Tony Smith, said: “We found a way to win, but I don't want to take anything away from Leeds. We need to be a whole lot better than that." Leeds’ Brian McDermott said: “I'm an immensely proud man. Our game was just about pure effort.”
These two sides contested last year’s major finals, with Warrington clinching the Challenge Cup and Leeds winning the Grand Final; promising ingredients for a fine match, even allowing for the influential figures missing from the Rhinos’ ranks.
There was a demonstrable lack of experience in the visitors’ defence as they conceded early penalties. Mickey Higham, in the best form of his long career, made them pay with a clever little kick and dive for the game’s first try.
A slick pass from Joel Moon set up Ryan Hall for the riposte when Leeds finally got into the game. Not only into it, but ahead as Liam Sutcliffe, the highly promising teenager who agreed a new four-year-contract yesterday, ran 85 metres to score.
Zak Hardaker, kicking for the injured Kevin Sinfield, missed both goals, but there was a touch of panic about Warrington’s play with some handling errors. They settled sufficiently to mount another spell of pressure before half-time, but could not break down the Leeds defence.
Two minutes after the break, the Rhinos extended their lead with another long-range effort, Hall picking Chris Bridge’s pocket and racing away for his second try. Hardaker again failed to convert, leaving Leeds vulnerable if the Wolves rediscovered their attacking edge. On 53 minutes they finally did so with Stefan Ratchford going over and Brett Hodgson added the extras.
Hardaker made up for his wayward marksmanship by coming into the line for the fourth Leeds try, this time managing to convert. Back came the Wolves, thanks to Briers’ kick, Joel Monaghan’s leap and Hodgson’s try and goal. Briers twice missed what could have been a decisive drop goal, but his third effort deprived Leeds.
Warrington Hodgson; J Monaghan, Grix, Atkins, Riley; Briers, Ratchford; Hill, Higham, Wood, Waterhouse, Westwood, Cooper. Substitutes used Bridge, Morley, Carvell, Currie.
Leeds Hardaker; Jones-Bishop, Watkins, Moon, Hall; Sutcliffe, Burrow; Peacock, McShane, Moore, Clarkson, Ablett, Singleton. Substitutes used Foster, Keinhorst, Kirke, Achurch.
Referee B Thaler.