8 Nov 2021

Season Review: Warrington Wolves

A Familiar Tale

Warrington’s star-studded squad again fell short of ending club’s 66-year title drought in another familiar tale for supporters.

It has been that way for the best part of a decade at Warrington, and it was no different for coach Steve Price’s last season in charge.

But for the third straight year, Wolves limped out of the Play-Offs in front of their own fans, this time to a Hull KR side missing a host of first choice players.

It wasn’t supposed to be like this for Price’s finale.

Before a ball had been kicked, the Australian had confirmed he would be returning Down Under for family reasons at the end of the campaign, with Daryl Powell confirmed as his replacement shortly afterwards.

Widdop (l), Williams (c), Ratchford (r) all shone for Wolves in 2021

“It's a decision based entirely on my family,” Price explained.

“It will be our fourth year in the UK and we've loved every minute of it. But I just thought, for the club, I should be open and transparent so they can do what they need to and we can focus on the job at hand.”

Price’s final season got off to a stuttering start, with Wolves taking just three points from their opening three matches, including a home win over Leigh. Price’s side lost to Powell’s Castleford on the opening weekend and then were involved in a rare draw at Hull, after both teams failed to capitalise on golden point extra time.

The first indication that Warrington could be set for better things came with an impressive 24-8 victory at Catalans, and despite a stumble at home to Huddersfield, they continued to amass points.

Significant disappointment came with the Betfred Challenge Cup semi-final defeat to Castleford, but they recovered sufficiently to win 6-2 at St Helens in a real arm wrestle, during a period when Gareth Widdop was arguably the competition’s form player.

“I was surprised he didn't make the cut for England as I've said all along I believe he's the form player of the competition,” Price said at the time.

“I know how hard Gaz has worked to put himself in that position and he's playing great footy for our club.”

Another lapse came at home to a Leeds team they were expected to beat, but Wolves gained revenge when new signing George Williams kicked the match winning drop goal on his debut at Headingley in early August.

After losing a high-quality home clash with Saints 14-24, Price’s men then finished the league campaign with wins over Wigan, Salford and Castleford to secure third spot.

The other major disappointment of the season was star signing Greg Inglis’ minimal impact - the Aussie legend restricted to just two Super League appearances before announcing his mutual release in July due to a hamstring issue.

“It's unfortunate that it's come to this, but the injury is worse than we originally thought,” Inglis said.

“Not too many people get the opportunity and the experience to come over here to the UK and play in Super League, especially at my age, and I want to thank Warrington for the opportunity.”

Inglis remained at the club in a mentoring role, with his exit from the playing roster allowing Williams to join from Canberra.

Williams turned down old club Wigan to link up with Warrington and said: “The boys here that I know from England camps spoke really highly of the organisation and the culture. There's some world-class talent and some real experience in this group.”

His arrival gave Price a multitude of options to play with, high profile past signings Widdop and Austin at half-back, the ever-consistent Daryl Clark and rapidly improving Danny Walker at hooker, and Stefan Ratchford able to slot in anywhere in the playmaking roles.    

Josh Thewlis scores against Wigan at Magic Weekend in what was a break-through year for him

Widdop was simply outstanding in the first half of the season, Williams showed flashes of his ability and Ratchford was typically reliable, ensuring there was no lack of attacking options in the team.

But Warrington's best performers arguably lay elsewhere on the field.

Out wide, Jake Mamo went from probable three-quarter cover - once Inglis was ready to play - to star man, scoring 16 tries in 19 appearances and producing a stunning individual display in the away win at Wigan.

In the pack, both Chris Hill - another in his final season at the club before joining Huddersfield - and Mike Cooper led from the front, and Ben Currie was excellent in the back row.

Another major positive for Price was the emergence of a trio homegrown youngsters, in outside backs Josh Thewlis and Connor Wrench and back rower Ellis Longstaff. All three look set for key roles in the squad on a long-term basis.

But as is always the case at Warrington, ultimate success will be judged on their title challenge, which yet again fell short.

Star man - Jake Mamo

You’d have got long odds on this being Jake Mamo at the start of the season given he wasn’t even handed a starting 13 shirt, but by the end of it just about every Warrington supporter was gutted that the Australian is heading to Castleford for 2022. It wasn’t just that Mamo finished as top try scorer with 16, it was his constant willingness to carry the ball in a fully committed manner from anywhere on the field. Throw in his zany post-match TV interviews and it’s not difficult to see why Mamo has been such a popular figure in his final season at the Wolves.

Season highlight - Round 10 versus St Helens

Warrington were in a rich vein of form with the ball when they arrived at St Helens in mid-June, Gareth Widdop running riot against opposition defences as his side clocked up a combined 100 points in wins over Salford and Wakefield. But at the Totally Wicked Stadium Steve Price’s side displayed a different quality from their armoury, grinding out a gritty 6-2 win at the reigning champions, whose attack is rarely shut down as effectively as it was that night. Ben Currie scored the only try in a performance that showed Wolves could tough it out against the best sides in the league.

Rising star - Josh Thewlis

It’s a measure of Warrington’s improving academy production line that there is more than one candidate for this, with the likes of Ellis Longstaff and Connor Wrench having claims to the title. But for Josh Thewlis this was a real break-out season, playing in over half the matches despite the significant level of competition in the outside backs. The 19-year-old Oldhamer is fearless with and without the ball, whether playing at full-back or on the wing. Expect more excitement from him next season and beyond.