The tragic irony cannot be lost on fans of Widnes and Warrington. Twelve months ago, these sides met at Easter vying to be top of Super League. Here, they were playing to avoid sitting bottom of the competition after the first half of the Easter weekend following horrendous starts to 2017.
And while it was far from the highest quality game you are likely to see this weekend, it is becoming increasingly clear that one of these sides is slowly beginning to piece their season back together. For the other, things look desperately bleak.
Three weeks ago, Warrington were languishing at the bottom of the competition, undoubtedly the new season’s surprise story, just six months after losing the Grand Final. There is still a way to go for Tony Smith’s side – he conceded that himself post-match – but with five points from their last six, the Wolves appear to be finally moving in the right direction.
The energy-sapping Easter period is the time where points take priority over performances – and with a number of front-line players missing here, Warrington certainly showed they can win amidst adversity and they can climb the table in the coming weeks, even if there is still plenty more to come.
“We’re digging in for one another – I don’t think we’re winning ugly, I think it’s beautiful,” Smith said. “It shows the spirit of a team and we did what we had to do here. We showed what we’re about tonight.”
Warrington’s workmanlike performance was based around a defensive grit unlike anything they showed during the opening weeks of the season, but it is impossible to avoid the fact they were aided by another insipid display from the side now bottom of the table, Widnes.
It was they who were Super League’s real success story this time last season –but since winning six of their first seven games in 2016, they have a record of seven victories from their last 32, including just one victory from nine matches this campaign. That is the form of a side who appear destined for a battle against relegation.
Worryingly for Widnes fans, their poor form shows little sign of abating. As the weeks go on, the games will take on extra significance, starting with a daunting trip to Leeds on Monday. “We’re not getting the rub of the green at the moment,” said their coach, Denis Betts. “But that’s not to say we’d win the game off the back of that. We need to keep getting better.”
Widnes had taken a early lead via the winger, Stefan Marsh, but from thereon out, their evening began to quickly worsen. Warrington responded with back-to-back tries from Tom Lineham and Jack Hughes – both of which involved smart build-up play from the young half-back, Declan Patton.
Patton has found opportunities limited behind Kevin Brown this campaign but during the Wolves’ two victories this season he has been instrumental. “I thought he did OK,” Smith said of his youngster. Patton was on hand to convert Warrington’s third try through Joe Philbin which opened up a 12-point lead shortly before half-time.
However, Patton still had time to extend the lead with an opportunistic drop-goal prior to the break and, leading 17-4, Widnes never really looked capable of mounting a serious comeback. They threatened a grandstand finish with Charly Runciman’s try on the hour mark but, ultimately, poor handling thereafter proved to be their downfall. It was far from perfect from the Wolves but points are all that matter at this time of the year: Widnes will testify to that.
Widnes Hanbury; Armstrong, Bridge, Runciman, Marsh; Mellor, Craven; Dudson, Johnstone, Chapelhow, Houston, Whitley, Brooks. Interchange Dean, Gerrard, Olbison, Burke.
Warrington Ratchford; Russell, T King, Atkins, Lineham; Patton, Gidley; Hill, Dwyer, Sims, Jullien, Hughes, G King. Interchange Evans, Savelio, Philbin, Livett.
Referee P Bentham.