Ahead of the new Betfred Super League, we will take a look at the Warrington Wolves and their chances of having a successful campaign in 2017, including ending their 61-year wait for Grand final glory.
Last year was a case of so near yet so far for the Wolves. Once again, they produced consistently impressive performances, starting with a seven game winning streak which saw them flying high at the top of the table. Some thought that they would start to fade after losing three of their next four games, but they only lost three more during the rest of the regular season of put them in a strong position heading into the Super Eights. Their fantastic form and ability to produce impressive results on the road helped them to yet another Old Trafford showdown in the Grand Final, this time against the Wigan Warriors. However, it was not to be, as the Wolves succumbed to an agonising 12-6 defeat, after letting their early 6-0 lead slip. It looked like they would at least secure a Challenge Cup Final victory, but once again they let a lead slip to lose 12-10 against Hull FC.
The Wolves will be hoping to gain more silverware in 2016, after having to settle for the League Leaders Shield during the regular season.
The Wolves have bolstered their forward pack in the off-season, including the captures of the returning Mike Cooper and Matty Blythe from St George Illawarra and Bradford Bulls, plus Andre Savelio and Dom Crosby from local rivals St Helens and Wigan Warriors. In the backline, the controversial signing of ex-Widnes star Kevin Brown has added some wisdom and game management to replace the departed Chris Sandow, who previously provided an immense creative spark in the side.
On the whole though, the Wolves have stuck with a majority of last year’s squad; a young team eager to learn and develop, and Warrington will hope they have got the right blend of youth and experience to allow the youngsters to flourish and learn from their senior teammates.
The Wolves are coached by Tony Smith, who has immense rugby league pedigree. He has been in charge since 2009, having previously managed the Great Britain and England national team, as well as the Leeds Rhinos, for whom he won the Grand Final with twice. He is a manager who is used to success, and he will believe that he has the squad to finally secure the Grand Final for the first time since 1955.
The backroom staff includes former Warrington great Lee Briers, as well as Simon Grix. It will no doubt be beneficial for the Wolves to have these ex-players in their squad, who can pass on tips to the likes of half-back Dec Patton, which can only benefit the progression of these young stars, including enhancing their game awareness and game management skills.
So can they do it?
It waits to be seen whether Warrington can finally claim the Old Trafford victory which has been eluding them in previous seasons. In terms of their squad, Warrington have one of the most promising and exciting set of players than they’ve had for many years. Although the young players still have a lot of learning to do, the mixture of seasoned veterans and young guns might finally be the key to success in what promises to be one of the most eagerly anticipated and highly competitive seasons in a very long time.