Many have tried, and many have failed, as a rugby league masterclass from Warrington Wolves keep the reigning champions St Helens scoreless with a prolific 19-0 victory at the Halliwell Jones.
It was always going to be an interesting spectacle. The town of St Helens was shaken to the core when hard-hitting forward Luke Thompson announced he would be joining Canterbury Bulldogs come 2021.
Last week’s demolition of grand finalists Salford was never going to be a true reflection of what a Kristian Woolf’s Saints would actually look like. Nonetheless, they swept the Red Devils away with a stellar 48-8 victory. The Wolves, however, possessed a much stronger challenge.
The absence of captain Chris Hill didn’t seem to cause too many problems for Steve Price’s side, as Wire racked up two tries, a penalty and a drop-goal to claim a 13-point lead at the interval.
Josh Charnley capped off an outstanding win with the final try of the match in the 55th-minute after fast hands set the winger away in the corner, while Ratchford cleaned up with the boot towards the end.
The 2019 Challenge Cup winners ended St Helens’ chance of claiming the clean sweep, piping them to the post on a competitive, action-packed, sunny August afternoon.
As you would expect, the game started slow, with neither team offering a sniff within the opening half-hour. A high shot on tricky halfback Jonny Lomax opened the gates, however, resolute Wire defence slammed the door shut.
Defence continued to be the main theme throughout much of the opening exchanges, that was until the hosts broke the deadlock. Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook caught Blake Austin high, and Stefan Ratchford was good with the kick.
An outstanding piece of defensive work by Jonny Lomax on the 30-minute mark kept the deficit at two. Young starlet Matty Ashton broke the Saints line and looked destined to score, but the halfback was able to produce a try-saving tackle on the left.
As the contest wore on, attack against defence ensued. With the hosts maintaining their domination of the ball, an already tough first half got even worse for Woolf’s side, as two tries in quick succession gave Warrington a comfortable 12-point advantage.
Feeling aggrieved from a try chalked off moments earlier, Daryl Clark pounced at the chance to open the scoring. The dummy-half found some space as the ball came out of the ruck and dived through a sea of red and white shirts to touch down.
A round one defeat at the DW looked harsh on the Cheshire-based side, considering they played much of the game with 12 men against a much-improved Warriors.
Fine-tuning and plenty of work on the training ground since and Warrington looked the real deal, as Tom Lineham dived over. Ben Currie rose highest to bat the ball back, it was the fed outside to the winger, who evaded one tackle and managed to regain his feet to put down.
Nothing is ever secure when the champions are in town and Blake Austin capped off a terrific opening display when he slotted over the one-point, just seconds before the interval.
Warrington were looking deadly and didn’t waste any time in adding to their already well-established lead after the break. Ben Murdoch-Masila and Ashton link-up well to work the ball over to Charnley, who finished off a lovely free-flowing Wire move in the corner.
Saints, still trying to find their groove, pushed on and in a stage of persistent pressure, the Wolves were let off. Penalty, penalty, try looked to be on the cards when Warrington forgot their discipline halfway through the second 40, but Naiqama was unable to force the ball over in the corner.
An exceptional 40-metre+ penalty from Stefan Ratchford gave Warrington a 19-0 advantage after a high shot on Austin resulted in a frenzy between the two sides.
On their quest to save face, Lomax came inches to claiming a consolation try in the dying stages. The halfback pounced out of dummy-half to go over, and despite being given on the field, the video assistant referee found grounds to rule it out and register Saints’ first duck since 2015.
Image – Platty Photos