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By Geoff Stevenson
The Warrington Wolves are desperate to turn around their recent form slump as they prepare for the arrival of multiple Dally M winner Andrew Johns next month. The coaching staff will undoubtedly emphasize to the players the necessity of the team to find some form following their 38-22 loss to Huddersfield on the weekend. While the Wolves are fourth on the table and have been the surprise improvers of 2005, there are concerns that complacency is creeping into their play. The club enjoyed an impressive seven game winning streak mid-season, however they have since won only two of their last six games, with one of those victories a one point struggle against the relegation threatened Widnes.
While the Wolves are confronting significant challenges on the field, perhaps their greatest hurdle will be maintaining team harmony. Johns? arrival will mean the club must sack an overseas player in order to ensure that they can fit Johns into their overseas quota. Warrington halfback Nathan Wood and former Adelaide Ram Graham Appo are both in contention to be cut. Wood in particular has been a substantial contributor to the team?s success, and may already feel disenchanted with the club after being told he will not be needed next year.
Once Johns joins his ESL teammates he will no doubt provide valuable service to the club. It is likely he will form an explosive combination with the Wolves backline, particularly Henry Fa?afili, who is fourth on the try-scorer list. Johns may also take on goal-kicking duties as the Wolves have struggled to settle on a fulltime kicker this year.
Johns arrives in time for two of Warrington?s biggest games of the season. In the final two rounds the Wolves take on ESL heavyweights Leeds and fellow overachievers Hull. They will then most likely be involved in a sudden death semi-final, as the ESL format has 3rd to 6th place take part in sudden death games in the first week of their finals series.
Despite the chance Johns may only be in the UK for three weeks, Warrington fans and the UK press have spent the past two weeks celebrating his signing. Johns has been described by the British press as being Jonny Wilkinson with personality. The profile of the ESL competition has been instantly boosted both in Britain and internationally, while the RFL and Wolves sponsors and administrators will surely appreciate the thousands of dollars of ?free? publicity.
What is certain is that the hype surrounding Johns? move will be worth every shilling of the estimated 10,000 pounds he is being paid per game. Warrington?s home ground, Halliwell Jones Stadium (capacity 14,000), was refurbished in 2003 and has only been filled by the Wolves once since then. Judging from the current buzz, there is little doubt that the ground will reach capacity once again come September.