By Alan Domville
Images by Neil Ashurst, P&B Pictures
While both teams were assured of a place in Super League in 2018 this final game of the qualifiers – and the season – was far from a dead rubber with Warrington fighting back from 18-4 down midway through the first half to go into the lead on 48 minutes and take complete command thereafter.
It was Wire’s 10th successive win, providing the desired result on an afternoon when so many star players were playing their last game for the club and head coach Tony Smith was also bowing out after nine years at the helm.
It was the last appearance in primrose and blue for Kurt Gidley who is retiring, Peta Hiku who is going back to New Zealand, Ashton Sims who is to join the Toronto Wolfpack, Andre Savelio who is bound for the Brisbane Broncos and Brad Dwyer who will join Leeds Rhinos.
Tony made one change to the side that won at Featherstone last week, bringing Benjamin Jullien into his squad for Jack Johnson.
Dwyer, Philbin and Savelio joined Jullien on the bench.
Stefan Ratchford, Matty Russell, Harvey Livett, Peta Hiku, Ben Pomeroy, Kevin Brown, Kurt Gidley, Chris Hill, Daryl Clark, Ashton Sims, Ben Currie, Jack Hughes, Mike Cooper
Subs: Brad Dwyer, Andre Savelio, Benjamin Jullien, Joe Philbin
Tries: Pomeroy (2), Ratchford, Dwyer, Savelio (2), Hiku, Currie, Livett
Goals: Livett (4), Gidley
Ben Cockayne, Ryan Shaw, Tom Minns, Matty Marsh, Will Oakes, Chris Atkin, Jamie Ellis, Lee Jewitt, George Lawler, Robbie Mulhern, James Greenwood, Maurice Blair, Ben Kavanagh
Subs: Zach Dockar-Clay, Chris Clarkson, Mitch Clark, Kieren Moss
Tries: Oakes (2), Shaw (2)
Goals: Ellis (4)
Jewitt and Hughes are both shown the yellow card, sin bin for 10mins. Incident in back play
“We had too much in the end. I thought they out-enthused us in the first half. They were better than us but in the second half we went out there and changed the whole game. We had too much for them. I have to make mention of our young bench, they came on and did a great job for us. Savelio was very good, I thought Dwyer was close to his best, Philbin had an impact and the same for Jullien; who I wanted to play today because he’s played so much of our season and it was a thank you to him for what he’s done, he’s held his own all year.
“It was pleasing to get the scoreline that we did and end up playing some decent Rugby League.
“It was highly emotional out on the pitch; it’s the memories of all the good people I’ve met here and the good people I’ve worked with and for. The times right so there’s so no regret but it’s hard saying goodbye, even thought it’s the right thing to do, when you are out and centre of attention – which is not where I want to be, I want my team to be there for all the right reasons.”
Stefan Ratchford kicked off towards the east stand and the Robins immediately displayed their credentials ahead of their return to the top flight by taking the lead in the opening minutes.
Will Oakes raced over in the corner and Jamie Ellis converted from the touchline.
Wire hit back and captain Chris Hill, looking sharp in the opening exchanges, was hauled down just short of the try line, the visitors being penalised for further interference.
Warrington couldn’t capitalise on their position, however, the raid ending with a knock-on.
Robbie Mulhern then made a powerful break for the visitors and raced into the clear but was brought back for a forward pass.
Soon afterwards, Ben Kavanagh reached out in the tackle to touch down but referee Gareth Hewer ruled his effort a double movement.
Kevin Brown made the first of many telling kicks to the visitors’ line and Ratchford, following up, forced a goal-line drop-out with his tackle.
From it, Brown and Ratchford combined to send Ben Pomeroy over in the corner to reduce the deficit. 4-6
Matty Russell was troubling the opposition with determined dashes in midfield and Warrington were able to keep up the pressure when the Robins were penalised for a high tackle on Ratchford.
But it was the visitors who would score next; a kick after the fifth tackle hit a Wire defender and bounced favourably. A second kick was chased by Ryan Shaw who crossed the whitewash. Ellis added extras.
Minutes later they were in again, Maurice Blair broke through the defence and served Shaw for his second try, also improved by Ellis and it was 18-4 to the Robins.
Jullien, Dwyer and Philbin were all introduced to the action immediately, Savelio having already entered the fray earlier, and the tide began to turn.
Another towering kick by Brown was again pursued by Ratchford and he was able to touch down while he was on his back. Livett added the goal points. 10-18
Daryl Clark was held on the visitors’ try line and Ratchford sent Currie scampering away and eventually the pressure brought reward.
With two minutes to go before the interval Dwyer ran straight into a couple of defenders and took them with him over the line by the sticks, providing Livett with an easy kick at goal. 16-18
There was still time for another Wire raid and Jack Hughes was tackled on his back over the line.
As the clock ticked down Wire were awarded a penalty close to the visitors’ posts but elected to run it and were unable to capitalise.
With just two points in it, both sides began the second period in determined fashion and the first penalty went to Wire when Ben Cockayne showed over-exuberance in a tackle.
It almost proved costly for Livett backed himself to take on three defenders close to the line but was turned into touch in goal.
Wire finally took the lead on 48 minutes; after Peta Hiku had made one of several powerful breaks Kurt Gidley was able to send Andre Savelio over on the right of the sticks.
Livett converted and it was 22-18 with the chant of “Tony Smith’s Barmy Army” ringing round the ground.
Brown then made a break that promised to produce points but the momentum was interrupted by a scuffle in back play that resulted in yellow cards for Hughes and Lee Jewitt.
From the restart Jullien crossed but was tackled on his back.
Soon afterwards Hiku raced over the whitewash and managed to offload to Pomeroy who registered his second try. 26-18
The Robins hit back when Blair’s kick to the line prompted a home goal-line drop-out and after being handed a penalty Oakes went over for his second touchdown.
Ellis’ conversion put his side just two points behind with 22 minutes left. 26-24
Warrington came back again and after Ratchford went close Brown was able to send Savelio under the posts, Livett’s goal making it 32-24.
Ratchford was almost there again twice more but the referee ruled he had taken forward passes on both occasions, firstly by Russell and the latter by Brown who had made a terrific break.
Two penalties to Wire in the same set created another scoring opportunity and Savelio was unfortunate not to score again.
Warrington were flying now and the Robins looked out on their feet; no surprise then that the game was made totally safe.
After being denied close to the line Hiku finished the move by diving over for his eighth scoring game in a row and Ben Currie, taking a pass from Gidley, was able to touch down with no opposition soon afterwards.
Gidley took over kicking duties and he was bang on target, making it 42-24.
The ninth and final Wire try came from Livett after the ball had been moved rapidly from right to left and being served by a neat pass by Currie.
By now there was a carnival atmosphere inside the HJ and Ashton Sims was given the chance to tack on a couple of points from the touchline; his kick was just wide and just short.
Soon after the final hooter, many of the players formed a guard of honour for each of those departing including Tony Smith, all receiving deserved acclamation from the crowd – their thanks for providing so many wonderful memories.
The Halliwell Jones Stadium had never seen such an emotional occasion.