Warrington outplayed Wigan on Saturday to go one point behind the Super League leaders and their performance showed the form of a team on fire. Despite being widely regarded as one of the 'big four' in Super League for some time, Warrington have never made the much coveted double, in fact, they haven't won the Grand Final since is modern conception at all and it's been 67 years since they claimed it's predecessor in the Championship. Could this be the year that they finally seal their place as one of the best teams in Super League? Here's why I think they can do it.
Talent Across the Park
It's a case of slow and steady wins the race with Warrington. Their top try-scorers Ryan Atkins and Chris Riley are still behind Josh Charnley and Sam Tomkins in terms of numbers. The Wolves boys have 21 each - still more than anyone in their Challenge Cup opponents Leeds - compared to Tomkins' 26 and Charnley's 30. Other than that, Wolves players don't frequent the top 10 for much else. They're not in the top ten most tackles, carries, metres made but, crucially, they're not in the top 20 missed tackles either. Common sense tells me that although no one is individually smashing records, you don't end up second place in Super League with one point in it at the top if all your players are below par. I think this is a case of sharing out the work load across a talented bunch of men, and that's certainly what their display against Wigan showed.
Safety in Numbers
One crucial element that gave Warrington the advantage on Saturday was that their bench was stronger than Wigan's. When you've got experience like Michael Monaghan and England's Gareth Carvell sitting on the bench you have quality fresh legs. Cooper, McCarthy and Bridge amongst others were rested, which means that Tony Smith's got options from here on out. When they come up against Leeds in the Challenge Cup final, they'll be all too aware of Kevin Sinfield's potent kicking game. Interestingly, though, Gareth O'Brien is statistically more accurate than Sinfield and Brett Hodgson isn't too far behind Sinfield. In fact, should O'Brien recover from a dislocated shoulder, he's the second most accurate goal kicker in Super League at the moment with 87%.
A Wealth of Experience
The average age of the starting thirteen against Wigan was 28. Lee Briers made his 400th Warrington appearance and 31 year-old Ben Westwood scored his 500th Super League career point at the weekend. Brothers Joel and Michael Monaghan both have NRL experience and Joel represented New South Wales and Australia. At the other end of the spectrum, Chris Riley has consolidated his first team position this season after spending the start of last season at Broncos and new recruit Stefan Ratchford showed that his signing from Salford was the right decision with an impressive try-scoring performance at the weekend.
Drive for the Ultimate Warrington Achievement
Warrington have become adept at Challenge Cup finals in recent years and, moreover, they tasted victory over Leeds to the tune of 30-6 in 2010. I think they have a serious chance of doing that again and they'll take confidence from having beaten Wigan, St Helens, Catalan and Leeds since June. What they need to be and will be aware of is Leeds' ability to step it up when the pressure's on. They'll be going into their third consecutive Challenge Cup final fighting for their first taste of success and that increases the danger element. In Grand Final terms, Warrington have been getting closer. They finished top of the league last year and went out in the play-offs at the semi-final stage - the furthest they've got in a long time. They have all the makings of a team destined for greatness this year and I really wouldn't be surprised if, against historical odds, they claim the double.