WARRINGTON Wolves leaped over Widnes Vikings into Super League’s fifth spot after turning in their best display of the season so far.
They rarely looked in trouble against a Vikings side enjoying its best start to a Super League campaign.
Wolves, beaten twice by Vikings last year, led 24-0 at the break having dominated all aspects of the game despite missing Ben Westwood, Simon Grix, Paul Wood and Richie Myler as well as making six team changes from last week’s home loss to Hull KR.
Was it any coincidence that the sun was shining bright on The Halliwell Jones Stadium?
Wolves’ players, who keep saying they have been crying out for dry pitches, were scoring at a rate of a point a minute in the opening 18 minutes producing a whirlwind start that has not previously been seen by Tony Smith’s men this season.
And in the first half they scored more points than in any other home game this season, before ending the clash with two more points than they had amassed in their entire previous four home appearances added together.
In contrast, Vikings have now leaked 86 points in successive games and only crossed in this game five minutes from time.
At the heart of it all for Warrington was Michael Monaghan, dominating around the ruck on the back of marauding forward play from Chris Hill, Roy Asotasi, Ben Harrison and James Laithwaite, giving half backs Gareth O’Brien and Stefan Ratchford the chance to shine.
O’Brien, replacing the injured Myler, was instrumental in the opening three tries and kicked on again in the second half, with his tactical kicking gaining repeat sets and piling pressure on Denis Betts’ side.
He scored the opener himself after three minutes.
He angled a run to the line from first receiver after Ratchford’s weaving run had left the Vikings defence scrambling.
Chris Bridge’s conversion gave Warrington a perfect start.
Vikings, who had welcomed back Cameron Phelps, Alex Gerrard, Danny Galea and Willie Isa, then enjoyed some territorial dominance thanks to their long kicking game.
But conceding successive penalties for lying on at the play-the-ball allowed Warrington to strike again.
O’Brien trickled a kick to the corner for Joel Monaghan and the Australian winger was able to pounce for his seventh try of the season before the ball ran dead.
Bridge added the touchline conversion for 12-0 in as many minutes.
Then O’Brien delivered the play that allowed Wolves to launch another raid.
His high kick caused Rhys Hanbury problems in the sun and after he knocked on attempting to play the ball Wolves got over again three tackles after the scrum.
A powerful Hill run took some stopping and Michael Monaghan spotted a hole to plough over from dummy half from a few strides out. Bridge’s extras moved Wolves 18-0 ahead after 18 minutes.
Kevin Brown threw a pass intended for Jack Owens straight into touch as Vikings threatened to hit back after 22 minutes.
A penalty earned by Hanbury when Ryan Atkins held him down in the tackle too long provided Betts’ men with an opportunity.
They came close when Paddy Flynn hunted down Brown’s kick under pressure from Matty Russell and Rhys Evans but the winger knocked on inches from the dead-ball line.
Wolves thought they had extended the lead moments later when Russell fed Rhys Evans over by the corner flag but video referee Ian Smith called an obstruction on a defender by Trent Waterhouse in the build-up.
After Hanbury was held up short in a strong defensive set on Wolves’ own line, Smith’s side counter-attacked spectacularly.
Micky Higham, continuing Michael Monaghan’s good work, ducked two tackles and darted away from his own 40 metre line before handing on to Bridge in support.
The centre had defenders closing in but his decision to dummy and go it alone proved correct as he just had the legs to get to the line before Jack Owens could get to him.
Bridge made it four from four to convert his own try and put Wolves in the clear ascendancy at 24-0.
Danny Craven’s kick straight into touch at the end of the second half’s first set paved the way for Wolves to extend their advantage in the 43rd minute.
After O’Brien’s grubber kick forced a drop out, he accepted a Ratchford feed to the left and although his long pass was not perfect it bounced and sat up nicely for Rhys Evans to dive over in the corner, with Bridge unable to improve on this occasion to leave Warrington 28-0 in front.
Hill was tackled on his back over the try line in the 55th minute as Wolves attempted to add to their total.
The next score was not long in coming though, with Ben Currie, having switched to right centre in place of Bridge, touching down his own grubber kick after Owens had mysteriously failed to attempt to clear the danger.
Ratchford took over the goal-kicking and potted a beauty from wide out to push his side 34-0 clear.
It started to look too easy as Ryan Atkins kept the ball alive from a destructive run, allowing Waterhouse to send unmarked Rhys Evans in with a walkover and make it 38-0 after 61 minutes.
Vikings finally got on the scoreboard in the 78th minute, squeezing over in the right corner after Hanbury had broken free down the middle before being caught on the left by Russell. Danny Tickle converted.
The Monaghans almost contrived another Warrington try in the closing stages, Michael chipping down the middle for Joel to chase but the ball beat him to the dead-ball line.
From the next set though, Ben Evans stole the ball in the tackle and offloaded for Atkins to cross with the last act of the game. Ratchford’s conversion brought up the 44 points and sent the majority of the 10,750 crowd home very happy.
Wolves: Matty Russell; Joel Monaghan, Chris Bridge, Ryan Atkins, Rhys Evans; Gareth O’Brien, Stefan Ratchford; Chris Hill, Michael Monaghan, Roy Asotasi, Trent Waterhouse, James Laithwaite, Ben Harrison. Subs: Micky Higham, Ben Currie, Glenn Riley, Ben Evans.
Vikings: Rhys Hanbury; Paddy Flynn, Cameron Phelps, Chris Dean, Jack Owens; Kevin Brown, Danny Craven; Alex Gerrard, Jon Clarke, Phil Joseph, Danny Galea, Danny Tickle, Hep Cahill. Subs: Willie Isa, Paul Clough, Lloyd White, Ben Kavanagh.
Referee: Ben Thaler