Warrington Wolves 30
THE LONDON BRONCOS have got into the worst of pre-Wembley habits, losing games and losing players in a way that makes them even longer odds against for the Challenge Cup final.
Not only did this result mark a fourth successive defeat leading up to the biggest day in their history, but a succession of walking wounded leaving the game prematurely threatened to make Dan Stains' job at Wembley more demanding than it already is. The main causes for concern were Rob Smyth, in his comeback match and earmarked as the Cup final goal kicker, who was forced off by concussion, and Steele Retchless, the man who scored the winning try against Castleford in the semi-final, who limped off late in the match.
"It's battle fatigue more than anything," said the London coach, remaining stubbornly optimistic that everyone, with the possible exception of Shaun Edwards, will recover in time for Saturday.
Whether they can recover their winning rhythm is another matter. Although London deserve credit for fighting back from a deficit three times against a Warrington team that showed flashes of real quality, they never looked to have the ability to win the match. Nor have they obviously caught the imagination of Londoners, less than 2,000 of whom were bolstered by visiting supporters to make up last night's modest crowd.
"We still have a limited number of Wembley tickets on sale," said the announcement at the end. Limited prospects of success, too, you would think.
Warrington took the lead for the first time inside the first two minutes, Lee Briers' quick tap on his own 20-metre line catching the Broncos unaware and Alan Hunte completing a runaway try. London's first reply came when Glen Air, who will play at Wembley if Stains decides Edwards is not fit, put through a low kick that Jason Roach failed to scoop up, Matt Toshack diving in to touch down.
The pattern of the game was established. Hunte, once more looking a top- class centre, set up Lee Penny to put the visitors ahead again; Karle Hammond's cleverly angled kick created the converted try for Tulsen Tollett to bring the scores level again. Slick handling by Danny Farrar and Hunte gave Warrington a four-point lead via Mark Forster's try before half-time, but London bounced back yet again to lead for the only time soon after the interval. Martin Offiah found a gap on the outside and, in the absence of Smyth, Tollett's kick from the touchline put them ahead.
Within three minutes, Toa Kohe-Love and Scott Wilson had sliced them apart and Roach put Warrington back in front. Tries from Roach and Kohe- Love saw to it that London finally lost sight of the target as Warrington won in style.
Stains was a long way from being downcast by the result or the performance. "Our commitment was first-class across the board," he said. "We just got outgunned."
London: Tollett; Smyth, Ryan, Fleming, Offiah; Hammond, Air; Retchless, Beazley, Salter, Millard, Peters, Toshack. Substitutes: Callaway, Spencer, Seibold, Hughes.
Warrington: Penny; Roach, Kohe-Love, Hunte, Forster; Wilson, Briers; Leathem, Farrar, Chambers, Gillies, McCurrie, Wainwright. Substitutes: Duffy, Hilton, Busby, Knott.
Referee: N Oddy (Halifax).