Jeff Dickinson-Fox reviews the campaign which saw Melbourne Storm crowned premiers in 2017.
4 days ago
Warrington overcame their spirited derby rivals Widnes 21-20 and raised a cash windfall for their seriously ill former player Mike Gregory.
The pre-season friendly, watched by a crowd of 6,124 at the Halliwell Jones Stadium, will raise around ?50,000 for the popular ex-captain who spent 12 seasons as a player with Warrington.
Gregory, whose sons Sam (eight) and Ben (four) were match-day mascots, has not worked since coaching Wigan in the 2004 Challenge Cup final and is taking the Warriors to court in March under disability legislation.
Widnes captain Terry O?Connor, who played under Gregory for Wigan, said: ?I am just happy that we could be involved in a game to help Mike, who is a legend in the game and an outstanding man and true gentleman.?
O?Connor?s side went close to embarrassing a near full-strength Warrington side for the second time. They beat the Wolves on Boxing Day and would have completed the double had Lee Marsh been able to land a late conversion.
Half-back Chris Bridge was chosen by Gregory as man of the match and presented with the Harry Bath medal, the Australian?s winning memento from Warrington?s 1948 championship success.
Warrington just about deserved their win but it was a result which surely confirmed Widnes? right to be considered promotion favourites in the LHF National League.
The Vikings twice held the lead in a tightly-contested first half, with impressive hooker Mark Smith and centre Damian Reid scoring tries, both converted by loose forward Marsh.
Warrington scored first-half tries through winger Henry Fa?afili, created by an inch-perfect kick by Lee Briers, and Bridge.
The visitors, 12-10 ahead at the break, extended their lead to 16-10 when winger Paul O?Connor finished strongly at the corner for their third try 12 minutes into the second half.
But hooker Mark Gleeson, making his comeback from a torn hamstring, jinked his way over just short of the hour mark and Bridge levelled the scores with the conversion.
Bridge then broke the deadlock with a 74th-minute drop goal before centre Brent Grose took a cut-out pass from new signing Michael Sullivan to score the deciding try.
Widnes still had a chance to win the game, with substitute Mick Nanyn going over for their fourth try two minutes from the end, but Marsh was narrowly wide with the difficult conversion.
?I thought the way both teams went about their business - it was a very competitive match - was purely down to respect for Mike Gregory,? said former team-mate Paul Cullen, the Wolves head coach.
?Both sides showed immense respect for the tie,? said Widnes boss Steve McCormack. ?It was full-blooded, as you would expect from a Warrington-Widnes derby.?
It was little surprise that Cullen tipped the Vikings to bounce back following their relegation from engage Super League.
?On the evidence of the two games I?ve seen so far, they?re very well drilled and they?ve a great work ethic,? said Cullen. ?Even when a side gets in front, they keep coming back. They are very good signs.?
Australian full-back David Peachey, who missed the match in order to attend a family funeral in Sydney, is due back at the club on Monday and is likely to play in Widnes? last friendly against St Helens on Saturday, January 28.
Elsewhere, Leeds beat York 25-18 in their pre-season friendly at Huntingdon Stadium.