Pre-Season Musings.

It’s been a busy Pre-Season for our beloved Wire. The club, in accordance with a new sponsorship deal, allowed the puffing of them daft e-cig things in the stands, then changed it to only in e-cig puffing specified areas of the concourse after some irate letters in the Guardian and nasty comments on Facebook, complaining that encouraging people to use e-cigs at the game would lead to the use of heavier electronic equipment, like laptops or microwaves.

It was the second time the Facebook supporters club spat their collective dummies out, with an actual Facebook page set up in protest of the postponement of the Widnes game. Some nutter even suggested if the Widnes game was played on a Sunday rather than the Wednesday, there would be 10,000+ on the gate. We didn’t even get 10k against them in the playoffs, cock.

On the pitch, the team seem to be shaping up nicely and the news kits are absolutely stunning this year. Proper Wire kits and a predominantly primrose kit is long, long overdue. Thanks very much ISC.

The reports of the matches have been done in stages and mashed together for your viewing pleasure. We promise to be more punctual in future, but at least most of the commas are in the right place. Hopefully.

Widnes

Anyone that says that they miss winter Rugby is mental. As much as I miss it when it enters its annual hibernation, standing in the South Stand in January is fucking grim.

The first quarter was littered with errors. Patrick Ah Van (or as he was known when he was at Bradford, Patrick Us Van), looking like the tramp that hangs around Holy Trinity Church – and playing about as well as him – managed to lose the ability to either stand up, run or catch. He dropped everything that Gaz O’Brien threw at him, though maybe it was more to do with the culottes he decided to wear instead of shorts – think Graham Appo in 2004 and you’re not far off.

Wire opened the scoring on nine minutes when Gary Wheeler backed up a decent break down the middle and found Kev Penny. Cameron Phelps held down the rampaging winger to give referee James Child little choice but to put the former Wigan man in the bin for the first of three Chemics’ yellow cards. Shortly after Ben Currie went over from short range.

The much-missed nastiness in the pack was in evidence Ashton Sims was a nuisance all night and it took about 45 seconds for Ben Westwood to have a go at the Warren Stevens-esque Manase Manuokafoa after the Widnes prop hit Gaz O’Brien late off the ball – the second of The Vikings’ sin binnings. Currie extended Wire’s lead within moments and O’Brien dusted himself off to add the conversion for the second time.

The home side took full advantage of the Smellies’ reduced numbers again for their third try. Toby King stretched out to ground the ball in the corner just after the hour following Latchford Albion product Joe Mellor going for a 10 minute sit down.

As with most friendlies, it’s not easy to pick out any pointers for the regular season. It was a pretty average affair. The good bits were punctuated with loads of substitutions, as you would expect from two sides so early in their preparations. Ashton Sims went well: the big Fijian/Aussie/Nordic Invader got through a mountain of work. Roy Asotasi looked sharp, getting his nose through the line, despite some diehards deciding to boo him before he’d even had a feel of the ball. Gary Wheeler, though, might just be the signing of the season if he stays upright. The glass kneed Saints Academy product showed good hands and a decent eye for a gap. He gave Warrington a bit of added menace when he moved into the halves allowing Stefan Ratchford Baby to drop to full back, where he is a better option than the often-out-of-position Russell. Gareth O’Brien needs to play more if only for his kicking game. He seems to be the only halfback in Primrose and Blue that regularly finds the ground.

You always know what you’re going to get from Widnes – loads of graft, no small amount of physicality and an absolutely horrendous accent. I’m not sure that they’ll have enough about them to make the top 8 this year, sorry Chemic fans*. Patrick ah Van is still shit.

*Not really.

Hull Kingston Rovers

After massively underestimating the length of Black Bear Park on a dog walk (who knew about that bit in between Knutsford Road and Stockton Heath swing bridge?), I got to the under-21’s game just as Dec Patten picked off a bouncing bomb and out -paced the full back to dot down under the sticks for Warrington’s only try in a 6-26 reverse. I was informed by my mate that it had been “shite” and left it at that. Off I went for a Balti Pie and a brew.

I wasn’t there when Matty Russell messed up his new pearly whites, although I wish I had have been for the comedy value alone. I was there when Ben Harrison went off after a big hit that may leave him side-lined for a few weeks.

It wasn’t brilliant, but it wasn’t all doom and gloom for the young Wire either. Out of the many, many in the squad, only a handful will really feature massively in Tony Smiths plans this year. Roy Asotasi again went well, even gaining the odd round of applause from gathered “masses” that refused to give him a break last year. Anthony England was as enthusiastic as ever and Gary Wheeler worked hard without much service. Gene Ormsby, on the other hand, had a bit of a ‘mare and might well have slipped down the pecking order, over taken by a certain Mr Penny over the course of 160 minutes of rugby.

If Toulouse are after a place in The Championship next year they are going about it the right way. Winning a fairly average French Championship last year shows they could compete, while this performance will obviously boost confidence should they ever be granted a place against the semi and full-time professionals of the second tier. Off the pitch, they are making strides with development work on going at their Stade des Minimes home and the French national team are almost guaranteed a sell out whenever they play in the city. There’s definitely no lack of interest or passion in the area.

On to the Main Event. I was looking forward to this. Hull KR have made some decent signings over the winter: Terry Campese is a genuinely top class half back while new partner Albert Kelly was a regular for the Gold Coast Titans in the NRL last year. Once they click, I expect them to go well. Rovers were only really without Ben Cockayne and Ryan Bailey so they should – on paper at least – have been a test for Warrington.

It didn’t start brilliantly for the visitors, to be fair. New signing Kevin Larroyer (No relation to the Chorley FM DJ from That Peter Kay Thing) went down after an innocuous looking tackle in the first set of six. The game was held up for 10 minutes while the stricken Frenchman was attended to.

Warrington seemed to cope with the lengthy stoppage the better of the two teams. Within a couple of minutes Mr Helen Skelton freed Rhys Evans on the right and the Welshman popped over in corner, winning me the G Post first try-scorer pot in the process (£6 fact fans). Straight from the kick-off Gaz O’Brien found Kevin Penny and the former Dream Team member streaked away from deep inside his own half, outpacing his cheap imitation Kieran Dixon in the process. The Robins’ full-back couldn’t get close enough to even get a challenge in. Stefan Ratchford Baby added the conversion for 10-0 in only 8 minutes.

Wire were well on top by the time Super Benny Westwood strode onto an Ashton Sims short ball and after Ratch kicked the extras the game was pretty much as good as over after quarter of an hour.

Rovers were on the back foot and even the likes of Campese and Kelly can’t do anything behind a beaten pack. Kieran Dixon will still be having hot sweats about collecting a high bomb only to be met by a three man chase composing of Ashton Sims, SBW and Chris Hill. The poor lad.

Westwood looks as though he’ll be able to get back to his best after being relieved of the joint captaincy. He was a nuisance against Widnes last week and more so against Rovers. The Warrington pack already looks to have a bit more arsehole in them this year, which was sorely missing last season. I like the look of Sims; he never stops. Daryl Clark was busy around the ruck. His direct running was a constant threat and no doubt points will come off the back of his breaks from dummy half.

Hull KR tried their best to get a foot hold in the second quarter, but never really pressured the hosts’ sturdy defence.

Half time was only a brief respite for Rovers. Kevin Penny scored his second of the afternoon soon after the break. Ben Currie picked off a speculator from Keal Carlile to find the former DHL and Swinton man on a perfect support line to romp home unopposed. Ratchford was again successful from in front. Penny has improved massively since his return: he looks more assured in defence; he has bolstered his positional play and his game awareness is miles ahead of where it was. He’s nowhere near Joel, but if he continues on this trajectory he will pushing Evans for a starting spot.

Ben Currie crossed after another Myler-Skelton assist which was again improved by Ratchford. Ratchford’s boot played a major part in Wire’s next try. His perfect cross-field kick found Penny who’s tap back fell to SBW for his second.

Stefan Ratchford Baby then completed the scoring on the hooter as he ghosted through some tired Robins tackles. This time O’Brien converted to take it to 40-0.

In all, two impressive pre-season victories over decent Super League opposition. It’s definitely our year this year, lads.

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