The Super League - 1995 to 2002

1995

On 8th April RL Council make a revolutionary decision to form a Super League of 14 clubs, which will start in the summer of 1996. The shock proposal that 15 clubs should be involved in mergers starts a major controversy. It is proposed that Warrington and Widnes merge to form a Cheshire side. Supporters of both clubs fearing the end of their club, stage a protest at the following Good Friday match between the two sides at Widnes. The same day the merger is called off as both clubs are allocated a Super League place.

On 30th April it is all change as the Super League plans are re-structured. The outcome is a return to three divisions and a withdrawal of merger proposals. The 12-club Super League is announced as Bradford Northern, Castleford, Halifax, Leeds, London Broncos, Oldham, Paris, St Helens, Sheffield, Warrington, Wigan and Workington Town.

Rupert Murdoch and News Corporation's £87m package is accepted and Rugby League is launched into a revolutionary and controversial new era. The Centenary season marks the end of winter rugby.

Centre Allan Bateman leaves to join Australian club Cronulla and is replaced by Andy Currier who is signed from Featherstone Rovers for a Club record fee of £80,000.

In June the Board announces plans for a 17,000 capacity stadium, on the old Thames Board site, next to the site allocated for the Village Hotel.

In September the Club tried to attract new supporters by allowing children in for free for the home game with Workington Town. It worked as the crowd went up to 7,714, but the team suffered a disappointing 14-16 loss. The exercise was repeated in November when Halifax were the visitors. This time 7,179 fans turned up and again the team lost 14-16.

Five Warrington players were selected in the Welsh squad for the World Cup, Jonathan Davies was captain, Allan Bateman, Kevin Ellis, Iestyn Harris and Mark Jones. In addition Clive Griffiths was coach and Mike Nicholas was manager. Wales had a good tournament before going out to England in the semi-finals.

The World Cup came to Wilderspool on 8th October 1995. The 300-1 outsiders Tonga spurred on by a crowd of over 8,000 almost defeated New Zealand. The rivalry between the two nations was ferocious and the crowd loved every minute of it. Tonga, led by former Wilderspool favourite, Duane Mann almost pulled off the international upset of all time as they led 24-12 with ten minutes to go, but a Matthew Ridge injury time dropgoal gave the Kiwis a 25-24 victory.

Wilderspool also staged a match in the Emerging Nations Tournament, between Russia and the United States of America. An eleven try thriller was won by Russia 28-26 before a crowd of 1,950.

On 31st October Jonathan Davies became the first professional rugby league player to officially return to rugby union, when he left Warrington for Cardiff in a £100,000 transfer deal.

Teenage utility back Iestyn Harris is crowned John Smith's International Player of the Year for 1995. His new found international stature was confirmed when he was named at full back in the official World Cup XIII.  In December a host of rule changes are introduced to make the game better TV viewing - the scoring teams to restart play, scrums to be 20 metres in from touch, the ball must be played backwards at the play-the-ball and no striking at the ball by the tackling team is allowed, and four named substitutes with six replacements are allowed.

 

1996

In January Brian Johnson resigns as coach after the Club's 80-0 defeat at St Helens in the semifinal of the Regal Trophy. His assistant Clive Griffiths acts as caretaker coach for the remainder of the season.  Wigan referee, John Connolly stands down after making a crucial error in the Warrington league match at Halifax. Halifax win the match 20-14.  John Dorahy is appointed coach for the new season, Alex Murphy as football executive and Graham Armstrong as the Club's first chief executive.  Toa Kohe-Love and Richard Henare sign for the Club before the season starts. They then list 14 players for a combined £275,000.

Summer rugby kicks off as Warrington are one of the twelve founder members of Super League. The Club's mascot Wolfie is "born".

Squad numbers and video replays are introduced into Rugby League. Warrington first use them in round 2 of Super League, a 45-30 victory over Workington Town at Wilderspool on 5th April.

A number of rule changes were introduced, including the zero tackle when fielding a kick from the opposition, ball stealing only allowing in a one-on-one situation, and the number of substitutes was increased from two to four, with six interchanges allowed.  Warrington won their first match of Super League with a 22-18 win over Leeds at Headingley. Iestyn Harris scored both the first try and goal in Super League for the Club.

Graham Armstrong resigns as chief executive and is replaced by John Smith.

Iestyn Harris becomes unhappy at being selected at full back and asks the Club for a transfer. He is listed at a world record fee of £1,350,000. He is then dropped for the last three matches of the season as a disciplinary matter.

Warrington battled with London Broncos all season for a play-off place, finally just missing out by one point and finishing the first Super League season in 5th.  Iestyn Harris, Paul Sculthorpe and Jon Roper are all selected for the Great Britain squad for their autumn South Pacific tour. Eleven of the tour party, including Jon Roper, were ordered home before the second test with New Zealand, as a cost cutting exercise. Not surprisingly this proved to be the last Great Britain tour.  Harris and Sculthorpe played in all five Tests, wins against Papua New Guinea and Fiji and three defeats to New Zealand.

 

1997

Tony Tatupu and Nigel Vagana are both signed in January from Auckland Warriors.  Dallas Mead and Martin Dermott also join the Club for the new season.

The Club start the season as Warrington Wolves.  Iestyn Harris is invited back to training with the first team. He plays in two matches and is then suspended following reports that he played in a soccer match without permission.

After a poor start to the season John Dorahy resigns as coach in March. The Wolves defeat Wigan 35-24 under the temporary leadership of Paul Cullen and Alex Murphy.

In April, Iestyn Harris is transferred to Leeds for £320,000. Just days later Darryl Van De Velde takes over as head coach. His first signing is Lee Briers, who joins the Club from St Helens for £65,000.

Alex Murphy stands down as football executive in May and becomes more involved in the commercial side of the Club.

In June the World Club Challenge begins. Warrington lose their first match to Cronulla Sharks 40-12, at Wilderspool. This is followed by record home defeats to Penrith Panthers 52-22, and Auckland Warriors 56-28.  The Wolves flew to Australia in July for the return phase, faring little better losing 48-12 to Penrith, 44-0 to Cronulla and 16-4 in Auckland.

Assistant coach Paul Cullen announces his retirement as a player. He never recovered from a knee injury that troubled him throughout the 1996 season, Paul's last match was the final game of Super League I, a 14-66 defeat at St Helens.

In August the Club sack Richard Henare, after he is jailed for assaulting his girlfriend.

The Alliance team reached the final of the Alliance Challenge Cup before losing to Wigan 24-48, this despite finishing next to bottom of the league.  Nigel Vagana finished the season as the leading try scorer in Super League with 17 tries, despite the Wolves lowly 9th place finish. Lee Briers won the Stones Super League Young Player of the Year award.  Paul Sculthorpe plays loose forward in all three Tests against Australia. The Aussies won the series 2-1.  The Club release five overseas players as part of a mass clear-out including top try scorer Nigel Vagana.  This is part of a cost cutting exercise that sees the Alliance team scrapped and the players wage bill cut by almost half.

The Club signs Australians Danny Farrar, Michael Eagar, Danny Nutley and Adam Doyle, Kiwi Brendon Tuuta and Englishmen Adam Fogerty, Vince Fawcett and Steve McCurrie for next season.

In December Paul Sculthorpe is transferred to St Helens for £300,000, with Chris Morley moving to Wilderspool as part of the deal.

Wind damage to the leisure centre in Priory Street results in the closure of the south side of the ground.  The capacity of Wilderspool is reduced to 7,284, its lowest, by the Grounds Safety Committee.

 

1998

The Salary Cap is finally introduced to "force" clubs to take control of their finances. Clubs will not be able to spend more than 50% of their income on players wages.

An Australian style play-off is introduced, culminating in a Grand Final (at Old Trafford) to decide the Super League Championship. The play-offs will involve the top five clubs.

In July a new £56.8m deal is done between Super League and Sky TV, with the Super League clubs sharing £45m over a five year period.

In August Warrington Wolves lose to Castleford Tigers 23-16 in their "On the Road" match at Cardiff Arms Park.

Wilderspool celebrates its centenary. A host of past players headed by the 91 year old Bill Shankland parade at the match against Huddersfield on 6th September. The following day sadness struck when Bill slipped and banged his head, at his hotel and never regained consciousness.

Another disappointing season saw the Wolves finish tenth with just 7 wins and a draw from 23 matches. The Club finished the season in financial ruin, with massive debts and the distinct possibility of having to go into liquidation.  On 10th December the Board of Directors resign and a new consortium headed by Greenalls and Warrington Borough Council take over. The local council also buy Wilderspool Stadium for £1m. Lord Hoyle becomes the new Chairman and Lord Daresbury the Club's President. 

 

1999

Former coach and rugby league legend, Alex Murphy is awarded the OBE in the Queen's New Years' Honours List.

Australians Simon Gillies and Scott Wilson and former Great Britain three-quarter Alan Hunte are the Club's major signings for the new season.

Marketing guru Peter Deakin is appointed Chief Executive in February.

A number of rule changes were again introduced for the new season, including; to revert back to the nonscoring side to restart the game with a kick-off, if the balls bounces into touch from a kick-off the kicking side will have head and feed at the scrum, the 40-20 rule and the zero tackle will only operate from an error in general play.

Greenalls are taken over by Scottish & Newcastle and so 1999 is their final season as shirt sponsor, after fifteen seasons which is the longest such sponsorship deal in rugby league history.

Warrington start Super League IV with four consecutive wins and reach the quarter final of the Challenge Cup.

However they are brought back down to earth with successive big defeats to Bradford Bulls in the league and the cup.

The season finished in disappointing style when a playoff chance disappeared with a run of five successive defeats. Toa Kohe-Love however finished the season as Super League's joint top try scorer, with 25 tries.  Three players suffer serious injuries playing internationals, Mark Hilton breaks an arm and Jon Roper damages a knee playing for England against France and Mark Forster breaks an arm playing for Ireland against Scotland.

Aussie legend Allan Langer joins the Club, along with Brisbane club mate Andrew Gee, World XIII best loose forward, Tawera Nikau and French international forward Jerome Guissett.

 

2000

Langer and Nikau make their debuts for the Wolves in a pre-season friendly against St Esteve in France.

Lee Briers scores a Club record 40 points in the fifth round of the Challenge Cup against York, at Wilderspool. Briers scored 3 tries and kicked 14 conversions, out of 14 attempts in atrocious weather conditions as the Wolves beat York 84-1.  The Super League season starts full of optimism with a home opener against London Broncos attracting a then Club record Super League attendance of 8,718. A 48-18 win fueled the expectations of the supporters, who are brought to earth with a bang when the next match is lost 4-58 at Bradford.

Warrington reach the semi final of the Challenge Cup, losing to Bradford Bulls at Headingley, 20-44. The Wolves were in the match until the last quarter when the Bulls scored four tries.

The Wolves stage an amazing comeback to inflict Bradford Bulls first defeat of the season 42-32 at Wilderspool. A two-try Allan Langer inspires Warrington to turn around a 12-30 half-time deficit, into a magnificent victory.

A joint planning application with Tesco is submitted on 31st May for a new stadium and a Tesco Extra store on the old Tetley Walker brewery site on Winwick Road.  Warrington Wolves again play Super League in Wales, this time in Newport as they beat London Broncos 28-18.

Lord Hoyle gives a rousing speech to almost 1,000 Warrington Wolves supporters at a the Parr Hall, on 17th July. The rally is called to show the amount of support for the Club's planning application for a new stadium.

Warrington Borough Planning Committee approve the outline planning application for the new stadium in August.  The same month Peter Deakin leaves the Club and joins Sale Rugby Union Club with his dreams of a merged "Super" rugby club in tatters.

A rollercoaster ride of a season finished with the Club in sixth place, without ever really challenging for a Top Five Play-off spot. This was a great disappointment to the supporters who had increased in number by a third on the previous season.

In September Paul Cullen left Wilderspool to become head coach at Whitehaven. Mark Forster also leaves Wilderspool after 20 seasons, 458 appearances and scoring 191 tries. Mark is one of the few rugby league players to earn a double testimonial.  Briers starred for Wales in the 2000 World Cup as they gave champions Australia a fright in the semi-final, by leading 22-14 early in the second half, before losing 22-46.

In November Andy Gatcliffe is appointed Chief Executive.  Kevin Campion turns his back on Warrington, stating that England is "too cold and wet". He stays in the NRL and joins New Zealand Warriors.

 

2001

In January Government North West calls in the planning application for the new stadium.  Australian international Kevin Walters returns to Brisbane after only four matches, following a bust up.  Warrington Wolves reach the semi final of the Challenge Cup, again losing to Bradford Bulls, this time at the McAlpine Stadium.

A Public Inquiry is held for the new stadium at Parr Hall in May. Lord Hoyle, Neil Dowson and Adam Jude make witness statement on behalf of the Club.  In June Lee Briers plays for Lancashire in the inaugural State of Origin match, and breaks his hand.

In July Allan Langer flies home to play for Queensland in the deciding State of Origin match. In doing so he becomes the first player not with an Australian Club to play in Origin. Langer puts in a man of the match performance and scores a try, before a 50,000 full house at the ANZ Stadium in Brisbane.

Later that same month Allan Langer and Darryl Van De Velde leave the Club and return to Australia. Lee Briers mesmerised England with a five star performance for Wales at Wrexham. Briers showed all his skills as Wales just lost out 42-33.

Steve Anderson is appointed head coach with David Plange as his assistant in August.

Toa Kohe-Love, Danny Nutley, Alan Hunte and Tawera Nikau play their final games for Warrington in the 31-28 win at Castleford. In the same match four youngsters, Alan Reddiciffe, Ian Parry, John Hill and Kris Tickle make their debuts Lee Briers became the 49th Warrington player to play for Great Britain when he made his debut against France. Briers was a try scorer and kicked a goal, as Great Britain beat France 42-12 at Agen.

In November new overseas signings Sid Domic and Darren Burns are unveiled to the media. They are followed by new captain Matt Rodwell.

In December the Government's Planning Inspector finally announces that the Club is successful in its planning application to build a new stadium, on the former site of the Tetley Walker brewery on Winwick Road.

 

2002

New signing Craig Weston returns to Widnes without playing a game for Warrington Wolves. He is replaced by twice NRL Grand Final winner Paul Marquet from Newcastle Knights.

In January the Supporters Club is converted into a Trust and becomes the first in rugby league.

After poor Easter performances Kiwi centre David Kidwell is released from his contract and returns to Australia. He eventually joins Sydney City Roosters.  David Plange takes over as head coach following the resignation of Steve Anderson in May. A surprise 19-16 win at Hull, on their final ever visit to the Boulevard, lifts Warrington off the bottom of the league.

Club skipper Matt Rodwell decides to retire, following a groin operation and returns home to Australia. Nathan Wood is signed, as his replacement for £30,000 from Wakefield Trinity Wildcats. Wood is followed to Wilderspool, from Belle Vue, by centre Ben Westwood, who costs Warrington a transfer fee of £60,000.

In June Lee Briers and Mark Hilton play for Lancashire and Nick Fozzard and Ben Westwood play for Yorkshire in both State of Origin matches. The same month the Wolves play their away match with London Broncos in the sweltering heat of Carcassonne.

Lee Briers passes 1,000 points for Warrington Wolves, to put him 9th on the Club's all-time points scoring list.  In August Paul Cullen replaced David Plange as head coach.

Super League VII is Warrington's worst ever as they finish 10th, just avoiding relegation with only 7 wins.  Work finally commences on the new stadium in December after approval of detailed plans by Warrington Borough Council's Planning Committee. 

 

2003

Eric Frodsham, full-back and captain of the successful 1954 team and former chief executive Peter Deakin both pass away just before the new season opens.  The ninety-ninth and final season at Wilderspool kicks off. Warrington win their opening match at newly promoted Huddersfield, but lose the first home match at Wilderspool to Leeds.

In February the first steelwork is erected at the new stadium. It is now all systems go now as the stadium quickly begins to take shape.

In July, Warrington Junior Academy (under 18s), beat Huddersfield 62-56 in Wilderspool's highest ever scoring match. The first signs of grass are spotted on the pitch at the new stadium.

Also in July, Graham Appo deputising for injured skipper Lee Briers, at stand off against Halifax, at Wilderspool, scored 34 points. Appo's points came from 4 tries and 9 goals, to break a number of Club Super League records, in a 66-6 win. The match was the 100th Super League game at Wilderspool.

Warrington beat Wakefield Trinity Wildcats 52-12 to clinch 6th place and the Club's first Super League playoff place. This final Super League match at Wilderspool attracted a full house crowd of 9,261. Graham Appo scored 3 tries and 10 goals, to give him 23 tries in Super League for the season. Sid Domic scored the final try in Super League at Wilderspool.  The Wolves lose their play-off match at Wigan 12-25 after a tremendous performance in front of a very large and vocal following from Warrington.  The average home league attendance for the season was 7,031, which was the highest since 1973/4, when four major trophies were won. Graham Appo is selected for the Super League Dream team at stand-off.  The Wilderspool junior sides have success. The senior academy under 21 side finished their season in 3rd place. The junior academy under 18 side won the first division Grand Final at Wilderspool by beating Huddersfield 30-20. Warrington Woolston Rovers, who played all their home matches at Wilderspool, won the National League 3 Grand Final.

The new stadium is named The Halliwell Jones Stadium and is handed over by Barr Construction to the Club, in early October.

 

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