LEEDS RHINOS coach Brian McDermott showed real prescience when insisting beforehand that this Warrington Wolves side would be “in the mix” come the end of the year.
However, after this ruthless and utterly convincing defeat of the Super League leaders last night, brilliant Warrington proved they are a team to watch out for in the here and now.
This was their fourth successive win as they continued their resurgence after a slow start to the campaign and, in essence, they were simply too good for a Leeds side that had generally swept all before them this season.
Tony Smith’s team, with Richie Myler, Chris Bridge, Chris Hill and Michael Monaghan all outstanding, kept their prolific visitors scoreless until just short of the hour mark and could have won by a far greater margin if not for some remarkable defensive efforts from Carl Ablett and Zak Hardaker.
Leeds, who have lost top spot after St Helens defeated Salford Red Devils last night, suffered a blow when Exiles second-row Brett Delaney was taken ill on the journey over and had to be replaced by Stevie Ward.
They also saw Mitch Achurch limp off injured in the first half but their hosts had issues, too, losing Ben Currie early on and then James Laithwaite.
The game started at a relentless pace and rarely let up. The only difference being that Warrington, with some irresistible football at times, were able to step up another gear while Leeds simply perished, making more mistakes the more they battled, as they slipped to only a third defeat of the year.
The introduction of Myler, who only returned from a lengthy injury last week, after around 25 minutes proved pivotal.
Warrington, leading 6-0, had already shown plenty of zip and adventure via Monaghan, Stefan Ratchford and half-back Bridge but the England scrum-half raised their creative quality further.
He quickly showed a dummy in midfield to accelerate past a flailing Ian Kirke and break through before finding Hill, the England prop who had just enough about him to see off Ryan Hall’s desperate late challenge.
Bridge – who had scored the opening try – converted to rack up his 1,000th career point and, soon after, the former Bradford Bulls half-back was racing in for his 100th touchdown in Warrington colours courtesy of Myler once more.
Hall unusually fumbled coming away from his own line and Michael Monaghan crossed only to be puzzlingly brought back by referee James Child.
However, Warrington were awarded the resultant scrum and scored in the next set as Myler’s perfectly-arrowed pass sent Bridge careering through on a diagonal from 20m out for another converted score.
Leeds, whose last-tackle plays were particular poor, were thankful the damage was not greater.
Ablett produced one of the tackles of the season to somehow deny Joel Monaghan just before the break.
A long, loose Danny McGuire pass on halfway hit the ground – there was a few such misguided wide deliveries from the Leeds players in the first half – and Gene Ormsby, Warrington’s livewire winger, advanced into space.
Hall just managed to collar him but his opponent still off-loaded for Monaghan, the Australian winger playing centre last night, who seemed certain to score after toying with the turning Ablett.
However, the tireless England second-row was undeterred and strived to get back and deny his opponent just before he reached the corner.
Hardaker quickly gave Ablett competition for that tackle accolade, however, early in the second period.
Ryan Atkins evaded Leeds’s wide defence to slip Rhys Evans away 70m out, the winger outstripping Kevin Sinfield and then Joel Moon only to see the full-back brilliantly get back to disrupt him just enough so that a foot went into touch as he crossed the goalline.
Bridge added a penalty in the 55th minute before Leeds ensured they did not suffer the ignominy of being kept pointless when Kylie Leuluai crossed for his first try of the season just before the hour mark.
There was even a touch of the farcical about that, however.
Liam Sutcliffe, one of Leeds’s more dangerous attackers, made a splendid break but had no support.
He took the tackle before Jamie Peacock found himself pirouetting in front of the Warrington posts looking for colleagues too.
Suddenly, though, as the hosts dallied, space opened up and he sent his front-row colleague charging over on his 200th Super League appearance for Sinfield to convert.
But Warrington quickly reasserted control against tiring opponents, Joel Monaghan stretching over with eight minutes to go and receiving a stray boot from Ablett in the process as the Leeds player tried to dislodge possession.
It was perhaps an unnecessary action and, belatedly, the incident was put on report, though it would be harsh if the England man missed Friday’s Challenge Cup quarter-final with Leigh Centurions through any disciplinary action.
Warrington Wolves: Russell; Ormsby, J Monaghan, Atkins, R Evans; Ratchford, Bridge; Hill, M Monaghan, England, Laithwaite, Currie, Harrison. Substitutes: Myler, Higham, Asotasi, B Evans.
Leeds Rhinos: Hardaker; Briscoe, Watkins, Moon, Hall; Sinfield, McGuire; Leuluai, R Ward, Peacock, Achurch, Ablett, Clarkson. Substitutes: Ward, Kirke, Sutcliffe, Singleton.
Referee: James Child (Dewsbury)