History of Warrington Rugby League Club
Warrington joined the split in response to the people's demands
A HUNDRED years on from the revolutionary rugby split the world game underwent dramatic changes again.
It seemed quite ironic that the centenary 1995 year planned for Rugby League to look back in celebration was turned on its head with the advent of Super League summer rugby and Rugby Union deciding to turn professional.
The modern day changes were as controversial and provocative as 100 years earlier when the subject of money forced the big divide.
But to understand the reasons behind rugby splitting into two codes you have to look back beyond 100 years, and it was as much a social issue as it was a sporting one.
Warrington Rugby League Club's history goes back to 1876, but even this is a controversial point as Wire celebrated their centenary in 1979.
Historians now believe that Warrington's beginnings were in 1876 when the Warrington Zingari Rugby Union Club was formed and the team played on a field in the Howley Wharf area.
That was the start of a nomadic existence in a period when the game took off to dizzy heights in the working class circles of the north.
Over the next seven years the club was to have five new homes – off Sankey Street at two different sites, off Wilderspool Causeway at two different sites and Slutchers Lane.
In 1879, the present club was founded by several members of Padgate and Zingari, who decided to start a new team called Warrington. Amalgamations followed with Padgate Excelsior in 1881 and Warrington Wanderers in 1884.
By this time Warrington were settled in at a site off Wilderspool Causeway, where Fletcher Street now stands.
And a year later they attracted an estimated crowd of 10,000 to watch a game against Widnes. On that day, the ground's small wooden huts collapsed but no-one was injured.
The game was attracting huge crowds all over the north of England as clubs became the focal points of their respective communities.
Warrington responded to the demands. In 1888 a new stand was opened and a grass running track skirted the playing area. A rounders club was set up to encourage players to keep fit during summer months.
The sport was having to learn to live with its increasing popularity. A league structure was created in Lancashire, Yorkshire and in the North West.
By 1893, an A team had been established at Warrington, a county game had been played there and the club had made a tour of the Isle of Man.
The game of Rugby League was then born out of necessity – a necessity to compensate players who worked in the mills, the foundries and the coal mines of northern England for wages they sacrificed in order to play rugby.
On September 23, 1893, several Northern Rugby Union clubs made representation to the English Rugby Football Union (set up in 1871) asking that their players be given 'broken time payments'.
The motion was defeated but two years later, on August 29, 1895, 21 clubs from Lancashire and Yorkshire, including Warrington, met at the George Hotel, Huddersfield, and voted to break away from the RFU.
The new organisation, called the Northern Rugby Football Union, rested on the principle of a six-shilling (30p) broken time payment, so long as the players could prove that they were in full time employment.
The opening matches were played on Saturday, September 7, 1895, a week before the start of the official Rugby Union fixtures.
Players striked for a pay rise one month after historic split
THE first season of the Northern Rugby Football Union was described by Warrington secretary, J. E. Warren, as 'the most remarkable in the history of the club.'
His comments were made in the club's annual report at the end of the historic 1895/96 campaign.
He said some of the club's members expressed doubt 'over the wisdom of the leap in the dark.' But he felt the opening season results had justified the committee's decision to join the 21 other clubs in the breakaway from the Rugby Football Union.
Mr. Warren, elected president of the NRFU in 1897, continued in his report: "Reforms have been introduced into the game which I feel sure have made it more popular with the spectators.
"Partly through this reason, but mainly through being favoured with an extraordinary mild winter, the money taken at the 'gates' was greater than in any preceding year."
The opening matches were played on Saturday, September 7, 1895 and the results were: Bradford 11 Wakefield Trinity 0, Leigh 3 Leeds 6, Tyldesley 6 Manningham 0, Batley 7 Hull 3, Stockport 0 Brighouse 5, Liversedge 0 Halifax 5, Runcorn 15 Widnes 4, St. Helens 8 Rochdale Hornets 3, Broughton Rangers 0 Wigan 9. Huddersfield and Oldham had no fixture.
Warrington began with a 5-4 win at home to Hunslet. Foden was the try scorer with Burton adding the conversion.
The year ended with Warrington in 13th place in the NRFU.
However, the season did not pass without controversy.
A ceiling of six shillings per day was set on the broken time payments which had forced the rugby divide but the first to challenge the ceiling was Warrington.
The first team decided to strike in October claiming 12/- as their expenses. Warrington's committee ignored the claim and promoted the second team.
Mr. Warren stated in the annual report that the committee's stance had the heartiest support and earned for the club the respect of the other clubs in the union.
Right from the start the new organisation's administrators were alive to the need to make their game even more attractive to the paying customer so that they would be able to recompense their players.
At the end of the first season the competition was so keen, the playing standards so high and the crowds so good that many more clubs rushed to join the pioneers.
At the first annual meeting at the George Hotel in August 1896 it was announced that 59 clubs were in membership.
To boost the game's popularity further, the Northern Union launched the Challenge Cup for all member clubs and the first final was staged at Headingley, Leeds, on May 1, 1897.
A crowd of around 14,000 paid £620 to see the game in which the 'Gallant Youths' of Batley beat St Helens 10-3 in a game played to standard Rugby Union rules.
Then came new rules. Goals, however kicked, were to count as two points and line-outs were abolished to make way for the 'punt out' from touch.
It was in 1898 that the game adopted the policy which made professionalism a fundamental part of the Northern game. A four-point charter agreed that professionalism be adopted, players properly registered, players to have 'legitimate' employment in a full time job and 'severe penalties' imposed for breaches of the charter.
This obviously brought many problems but some of them were humerous. Shady jobs such as billiard marker, bookies runner and pub waiter were definitely taboo!
And it was also in 1898 that Warrington moved to their Wilderspool Stadium home. A 10-year lease was agreed with Greenall Whitley for land on the east side of their existing ground, a pitch previously used by Latchford Rovers Rugby Club.
It was necessary to move because the existing pitch was needed to build houses in Fletcher Street and £251 was spent on removing some of the fencing to establish the boundaries of what virtually became Wilderspool Stadium.
Warrington major players in shaping the modern game
THE success of the northern rugby breakaway was reflected in the 98-club league membership only three years after foundation.
Once professionalism had been adopted Northern Rugby Football Union players began to reap the rewards.
Northern Union players were better paid than soccer professionals with wages varying between 30 shillings (£1.50) and £4.
In 1903, Warrington's Jack Fish received £3 to sign on for the season while George Dickenson received £4 to sign on, plus 17s 6d for a win or 12s 6d for a loss or a draw.
Inevitably, in their search for good players and success, clubs began to look outside the traditional boundaries and to Rugby Union for major signings.
These signings were made under cloak and dagger secrecy and opposition to these moves was particularly bitter in the Union stronghold of South Wales. Anger exploded when a man with a strange accent was discovered in Penarth to be a Wigan scout. He was ducked in the sea and rolled in the sand!
The game was forever adapting to change in the early years with Warrington playing a major part in shaping the code towards the modern game.
After the first season two county leagues were set up, the Lancashire and Yorkshire Senior Competitions, but in 1901 14 top clubs, including Warrington, set up what must be regarded as the first Super League.
Then in 1902 they operated with two divisions and a rule change saw the 'punt out' from touch being scrapped and replaced by a scrum on the 10-yard line.
Further changes to the game came in 1904 when it was decided that no more than three men would be allowed to scrum down in the front row.
More re-structuring came in 1905 when one major league of 31 clubs was created. It was a complex system. League positions had to be decided on a percentage basis as not all the clubs played each other.
But the two division set-up had had to be replaced because the Second Division system was putting clubs close to the brink of bankruptcy.
It was not until the 1906/07 season that 13-a-side was brought in. It won approval of the NRFU after being proposed by Warrington and backed by Leigh.
For that same campaign a new method of playing the ball was used. Also, a penalty was awarded for touch kicking and that again was Warrington's suggestion.
Players and supporters on the 1905/06 New Zealand All Blacks Union tour of Great Britain were so impressed by the new rival northern code that on returning home they decided to sponsor a visit to England to play under League rules.
It was agreed that the New Zealand tourists would receive 70 per cent of gate receipts, with guarantees of £50 for a midweek game and £100 for a Saturday. The tour would also be insured against loss.
The proposed tour caused consternation in New Zealand and the All Blacks were stated to have signed assurances that they would do nothing 'contrary to the laws and the spirit of Rugby Union.'
Baskervilles Team, the first Australasian tourists, arrived in Britain in October 1907. The 'All Golds' 35-match and three-Test tour was a huge success and their stop over in Australia en route to the Northern hemisphere gave vital impetus to a breakaway movement which was threatening to split the New South Wales Rugby Union over the issues of compensation payments.
In 1908 came the expected Australian breakaway and the NSW Rugby Union decided to set up their own set of rules and send a team to Britain. Proceeds of the tour would be used to set up a NSW Rugby League on the tourists return.
Town's Aussie import trend started in 1909
AUSTRALIA made history with their first tour of Great Britain in 1908.
They played Warrington twice, losing 10-3 in November and drawing 8-8 in February, 1909.
Australia met the Northern Union in the first Test at Park Royal, London, on December 12 and the game was drawn 22-22.
The second Test was played, ironically, in the soccer stronghold of St. James' Park, Newcastle, and, in front of 22,000 fans, the British Northern Union side won comfortably.
The third Test at Villa Park, Birmingham, proved an anti-climax with the Northern Union side winning 6-5.
After the six-month tour ended two of the Australians, L. O'Malley and D. Frawley, stayed behind and signed for Warrington. It was the start of a long tradition for Warrington and Australian players.
It was in this year that Warrington recorded their highest league win in the club's entire history. On April 12 they entertained St Helens and destroyed them 78-6. Prop forward George Thomas crashed over for five tries and landed nine goals too for a points total of 33, the highest individual haul for a Warrington player until Lee Briers came on to the scene with 40 points in a year 2000 Challenge Cup match.
Although that first tour by the Australians was a failure financially, they proved their commitment to the game by inviting the Northern Union to send a touring team to Australia. The invitation was readily accepted.
It became a journey to Australia and New Zealand and the first party of seaborn tourists arrived in Oz at the end of May 1910, and the late arrivals on June 2. Among them was Frank Shugars, Warrington's first tourist. He played in one Test against New Zealand.
The eagerly awaited first Test on Australian soil was in Sydney when a huge crowd of more than 50,000 saw the Northern Union clinch a 27-20 win.
The tourists beat Newcastle and Queensland and, with receipts totalling more than £6,000, the tour was financially safe.
The second Test was played at Brisbane which the Northern Union again won, this time 22-17 and, as the Test series was decided, it was agreed that the third international should be against a combined Australian and New Zealand side. This was played at Sydney before yet another 50,000 crowd and the result was a draw.
From Australia the tourists went on to New Zealand where they ran up big scores against the Maoris, Auckland, Rotorua and New Zealand 52-20 and the receipts of £520 brought tour proceeds to £11,000 from which the Union received £6,500 - a magnificent bumper return.
Back on home soil, the 1910/11 season's benefit for flying winger Jack Fish brought in a little more than £268. Fittingly he bode farewell to Warrington fans with a try-scoring last performance against Coventry in the first round of the 1911 Challenge Cup competition.
But as Warrington said goodbye to one hero, another arrived – Jimmy Tranter!
Demands of the game continued to grow and Warrington had to adapt. The first section of the new north stand was opened (where the Brian Bevan Memorial Stand is located), seating 900 and costing £1,500 to build.
Britain's amazing battle brigade clinch Test series
THE years building up to World War One were eventful for Warrington and the Northern Union as a whole.
The players at Warrington were in dispute again and were on strike for the second time in the club's history in 1913/14.
Club officials were being kept busy because they were also working towards purchasing their ground off Greenall Whitley.
That deal was completed in 1914 with the freehold being held in trust for club members until it became a limited liability company in 1941.
Twenty five players from the Warrington club enlisted in the forces in 1914, but over the five years at war there were more than 90 past and present Warrington players who served their country.
George Thomas was one of the fatalities. He was the man who set the club's record individual points haul for one match in the record 78-6 victory over St Helens in 1909. He scored five tries and nine goals.
But prior to World War One there was a battle Down Under which did not feature any Warrington players.
In 1914 came the Great Britain tour which was to include the magnificent 'Rorke's Drift' Test.
After several warm up matches came the most remarkable eight-day period in Test history – a period that has never been equalled in the game – and it culminated in the courageous ‘Rorke's Drift' encounter. Three Tests were played at Sydney during the brief period. Despite injuries the Northern Union won the first Test 23-5.
Incredibly, the second Test had been arranged for two days later and the Australians won 12-7 in front of a 55,000 crowd.
Capitalising on public interest the Australian authorities threw the tourists' plans into complete chaos by rearranging the third Test just five days later. In vain the British managers, Messrs J. H. Houghton and W. J. Clifford, protested and when Mr. Clifford cabled Northern Union headquarters in Britain, a hastily convened management committee meeting, in true stiff upper lip manner, instructed the tourists to play.
The message that came back from England concluded in true Nelson fashion: "England expects that every man will do his duty."
The British team didn't let their country down – far from it. The crowd again topped 40,000 and they witnessed a rear guard action, by the tourists which was immediately dubbed 'Rorke's Drift' after the Zulu war action in which two British officers and 80 men held out against 4,000 Zulu warriors at Rorke's Drift, Zululand, in January 1879.
In the first two minutes of the game winger Frank Williams twisted his leg, but despite this handicap, the tourists led 9-3 at half-time.
Early in the second half Huddersfield forward D. Clark broke his collar bone. He tried to resume but had to leave the field and then Frank Williams' leg gave out and he left the field. To add to Britain's troubles Billy Hall suffered concussion going down on a loose ball.
Ten tourists faced 13 Australians, a totally hopeless task with still 30 minutes to go, yet the miracle happened. There was less than 20 minutes to go when Johnson kicked and dribbled half the length of the field to touch down for a try and Wood landed a goal. Hall came staggering back on the field, Britain held out and at the end of the game the Sydney crowd rose and cheered the Britons off the field. The score was 14-6 and the series had been won against unbelievable odds.
Good Fridays were bad for Arthur
AS the professional game grew in Warrington, so did the works' competition of the Northern Union code.
Just before World War One there were a staggering 48 teams in the town's works' competition – a record!
1919 brought the resumption of fixtures and in 1921 the club stormed to its first Lancashire Cup success. After narrow defeats of St. Helens Recs and Leigh, Warrington ended the hopes of Oldham in the final 7-5.
But apart from that, success was hard to come by on the pitch for Warrington at this time and until 1926 the side never climbed above eighth place in the league.
The team did have its stars despite the lack of success. Billy Cunliffe and Arthur Skelhorn toured Australia and New Zealand in 1920.
There were administrative changes too with Mr. R. F. Anderton (Bob) taking on secretary's duties and S. Jones replacing Thomas Pemberton, who had served as treasurer for a marvellous 37 years.
And the crowds kept flocking to Wilderspool. Although one player the audience would not have seen was 1920 tourist Arthur Skelhorn. Arthur, a forward, who signed in 1911, refused to play on Good Fridays. It is believed his reason for that was religious. He played 14 seasons with Warrington and served as a committee man too.
Skelhorn played for Great Britain seven times. He was a regular for his county and scored 47 tries and one goal in his 250 appearances for Warrington.
Ryder's troops so close yet so far
When the outdated and parochial title Northern Union was replaced by Rugby League in 1922 the game was well and truly on its way.
And the sport was becoming much more organised at supporter level.
A new west perimeter wall and turnstiles were built at Wilderspool while in 1923/24 the supporters' club was formed.
And what tremendous support it was in those early days. In 1925 the supporters' club provided Warrington with covered accommodation on the popular side of the ground, that's where the leisure centre was eventually built. Two years later the supporters' club donated a scoreboard.
It was at this time that Warrington enjoyed their most successful league campaign since the breakaway.
Skipper and scrum half Freddie Ryder was inspirational in leading his troops to runners-up in the 1925/26 championship. He was an ever-present in the club's 42-match season and he scored 17 tries.
It proved to be a one-off season for Warrington though, as 12 months later they finished 17th in the one division format.
A further development to Warrington's ground came in 1926 with the perimeter wooden fence being replaced by a concrete wall.
All the ground work led to Warrington hosting the Lancashire Cup final and the Rugby League Championship final in 1927/28.
The Warrington team's loss of form slumped to an all-time low in 1928 when the club suffered its then record defeat 68-14 at Hunslet.
A MOVEMENT began late in 1928 which was to have far reaching and amazingly successful repercussions for the game of Rugby League.
Council members began to search for a permanent home for the great showpiece, the Challenge Cup final.
Attendances had been rising and a 40,000 crowd at Rochdale had proved almost too much for police and ground staff. After many meetings with the authorities at the great new Empire Stadium, agreement was reached for the first Wembley Challenge Cup final to take place in 1929
The clubs destined to take their place in history were Dewsbury and Wigan, who met in the first Wembley final in May. The crowd was 41,500 and receipts were £5,600 which made the experiment well worth-while. Just for the record, Wigan lifted the cup 13-2.
Warrington enjoyed cup success the season after lifting the Lancashire Cup for the second time with a 15-2 victory over Salford.
And it was in 1933 that Wire enjoyed their first trip to Wembley in search of ‘double' success with already having the Lancashire Cup under their belts that season.
Warrington's opponents for the Challenge Cup final were Huddersfield and the game attracted what was then a record crowd of 41,874. Unfortunately it was Huddersfield's year as they took the cup 21-17.
Away from the Challenge Cup, Warrington maintained their superb record against Australian tourists with a 17-8 defeat of the Kangaroos in 1929. Tubby Thompson scored all Wire's points, three tries and four goals.
Australians Bill Shankland and Nelson Hardy were signed for £550 and £450 in 1931. And the Aussie link continued in 1932 with Warrington secretary Bob Anderton elected as business manager for the tour Down Under.
Rugby League took hold in France in the 1930s when the French Rugby Union found itself ostracised by its international fellows amid allegations of professionalism!
As a result yet another breakaway movement was formed and they hosted an exhibition international game in Paris in 1933 and a year later they sent a representative side to England and staged the first Great Britain versus France Test match in April, 1934.
31,000 at Wilderspool
THE mid-1930's was Warrington Rugby League Club's most successful period to date.
After a first Wembley Challenge Cup final appearance in 1933, came Championship runners-up spots in 1934/35 and 1936/37 plus a Challenge Cup final defeat to Leeds in 1935/36.
But four years of being so close yet so far were turned into glory in 1937/38 when Wire won the Lancashire League and the Lancashire Cup under the guidance of Chris Brockbank, who had become Wire's first team manager in 1936.
Also in this era, Steve Ray established a new seasons' try scoring record with 33 in 1933, but that was increased to 34 in 1939 by Izzy Davies.
January 1934 brought the opening of new dressing rooms underneath the main stand. Wilderspool hosted the 1934 Championship final between Salford and Wigan and attracted a bumper crowd of 31,565. That was a record but it was beaten in years to follow.
The traditional pre-season friendly between Warrington and Wigan, the Locker Cup, started in 1938. It was then known as the Wardonia Cup and was donated by a local firm for charity matches. Charities and amateur football in both towns benefited from the proceeds of these games.
Standing ovation for reserve team trialist
FOR the second time, war brought a halt to Rugby League championship action.
Only friendlies were played during World War Two, 1939 to 1945. Wilderspool was commandeered for storage space and many Wire stars guested for other clubs during this period.
With no money coming in through the turnstiles, it left Warrington with difficulties in paying their bills. A meeting was called at the British Legion Club in 1942 and it was approved that the club should be formed as a limited company. In a successful bid to keep the club solvent a total of 10,000 shares, £1 each, were issued.
The shareholders were soon to see value for their money with the arrival of an unknown Australian navy stoker in 1945. It was the start of a new era at Wilderspool.
On November 10, 1945, Brian Bevan played a trial game in Warrington's A team against Widnes. Not surprisingly it was a try-scoring start and he received a standing ovation from the supporters.
A week later he played for the first team as a trialist and the legend had begun. Warrington signed him on immediately and Bevan promised to return after his discharge from the Australian Navy.
What an impact he had in 1946/47. Bevan set Wilderspool alight as he smashed the club's try scoring record with 48 tries in 42 appearances. His official debut came in the 10-5 second leg Lancashire Cup win at home to Salford, and again he was among the scorers.
We are the champions!
When Warrington got off to a bad start to their 1947/48 season, the club's ambitious officials decided to do something about it.
Chairman J. S. Tilling and his directors swooped for Warrington-born Harold 'Moggy' Palin from Swinton and wasted no time in introducing to the front row close season signings Bill Darbyshire and Bill 'Spiv' Riley, both prop forwards.
It made all the difference! Warrington went two months without defeat.
Warrington became aware that they had to do something to make the most of their talented wingers, Bevan and Albert Johnson. So they strengthened their centre department with the capture of Albert Pimblett from Halifax and then Bryn Knowelden. Utility back Stan Powell also landed at Wilderspool.
The result was that Warrington went undefeated in 20 games from December 1947 to April 1948, won the Lancashire League and gained a place in the Championship top four play-off.
In the semi-final play-off, tries from Bevan 2, Pimblett 2, and hooker Dave Cotton, plus a goal from Palin, was enough to end the hopes of Huddersfield at Wilderspool.
The Championship final was at Maine Road, home of Manchester City FC, with 69,341 supporters paying receipts of £9,700 to see the clash with Bradford Northern.
Bevan and Pimblett crossed the whitewash again, with Powell adding the third as Wire secured an historical 15-5 success. And just for the record, Cotton won the scrums against Northern's Darlinson 38-28. Warrington were champions for the very first time!
The team on that special day was: Les Jones, Brian Bevan, Albert Pimblett, Bryn Knowelden, Stan Powell, Jack Fleming, Gerry Helme, Bill Derbyshire, Dave Cotton, Bill Riley, Jim Featherstone, Bob Ryan, and Harold Palin.
Pimblett proved to be an inspirational signing for Warrington that season. Not only did he score 19 tries himself but was provider for many of the 57 that Bevan scored, nine higher than the record he set in the previous year.
There was another signing that season, Australian Harry Bath, who joined the club from Barrow in March, too late to be able to play in the top four play-offs. He was a world class second row who was to become a tower of strength to Warrington RLFC.
Wire's first success at Wembley came in 1950
EXPECTATION was high from the current champions in 1948/49 and Warrington did not let their fans down.
The team won the Lancashire League, on the back of 19 straight wins at the start of the season, finished runners-up to Wigan in the Lancashire Cup and runners-up to Huddersfield in the League Championship final at Maine Road, the stadium where Wire had become champions for the first time 12 months earlier.
Warrington missed out on successive Championships by just one point, 13-12. A staggering 75,194 crammed into Maine Road. The attendance and the receipts of £11,073 were records for a northern ground.
Wilderspool's record attendance was created in this season. The ground bulged at its seams as 34,304 turned out to see Warrington lose only their second game of the season – to Wigan! Almost 32,000 turned up to see the two teams battle out the pre-season friendly for the Ward Charity Cup at Central Park.
Warrington's success switched away from the league competition in the 1949/50 campaign. This was a term in which Wire paid a then record fee of £4,600 for Ally Naughton from Widnes.
The 20-year-old played a big part in helping Warrington reach the final of the Challenge Cup and it turned out to be Wire's first Wembley success. They defeated Widnes 19-0 in front of 95,000 fans.
Just before Christmas, Warrington went down to the south of France for a weekend of action. They won at Toulouse 6-3 and followed it up 24 hours later with a 16-8 victory over Albi.
Brockbank bowed out after 15 years
IT was only right that in the highly successful Wire era of 1947 to 1955 that the club's stars should figure on the international scene.
Prop Jimmy Featherstone and second rower Bob Ryan made the Great Britain tour Down Under in 1950 to become the club's ninth and 10th tourists.
They returned to enjoy a fine 1950/51 season with Warrington, who finished the year as Lancashire League winners, Lancashire Cup runners-up and Championship runners-up.
Second rower Harry Bath gave up his captaincy part way through the season because he felt the extra responsibilities had affected his game. Bryn Knowelden took over and ironically the team lost at Workington, only their third defeat in 20 games.
A record 42,541 supporters at Swinton saw Warrington lose the Lancashire Cup final to Wigan 28-5.
Warrington paid their third visit in four years to Manchester City's Maine Road to face Workington in the Championship final. Despite leading 8-3 at half-time, Wire went down 26-11.
A big change for the club came in 1951 when manager Chris Brockbank ended 15 years at the helm to take up a hotel business in Blackpool.
The man who came in to replace him was New Zealander Ces Mountford. He was introduced to the shareholders at the club's Annual Meeting held at the Co-op Hall, Cairo Street. Mountford, a regular in the Wigan team, accepted a 10-year contract as manager/coach and after some obstruction from Central Park chiefs he was eventually allowed to play for the club too.
Another newcomer to the club during the season was Eric Fraser, the club's fifth full back on the books at that time. The 20-year-old joined from St Helens Junior Club and in later years was to become a Great Britain World Cup hero.
And there was a new chairman too in F. W. Davies, who took over from P. F. Ward.
Some things never changed that season – wing sensation Brian Bevan kept on scoring. In what turned out to be a disappointing 1951/52 campaign compared to previous years the Australian flyer, eventually to become the world record try scorer, crossed for 46 touch downs.
He was also proving to Australia why he was worth an international spot too. He scored two tries for Other Nationalities against Wales, one for the British Empire side against the touring Kiwis at Chelsea and then two for Other Nationalities against England.
The Bevan and Bath super show
A STAGGERING 740 tries in his Wire career, 66 in just one season – that was the phenomenon that was Brian Bevan.
The try-scoring machine bagged his season's club record of 66 in 1952/53 but the disappointing aspect was that such an unequalled rate was not enough to help Wire win some silverware.
And in that campaign too another Australian broke a club record that still stands today. Pack ace Harry Bath, signed from Barrow, scored a record 363 points from 13 tries and 162 goals in 40 appearances.
The Australians were in Britain and met Lancashire at Wilderspool after defeating Wire 34-10.
There was an historical milestone in April, 1953, when Warrington's ground staged its first international. That was the game between Wales and Other Nationalities. In the Welsh team was centre Norman Harris, grandfather of the future Wire, Leeds and Great Britain Rugby League sensation, Iestyn Harris.
Wire stars Albert Johnson and Gerry Helme had a joint Testimonial with a little more than £1,514 being shared between the two of them.
The club's 1953/54 season was one not to be forgotten.
Ces Mountford's heroes scorched to a fantastic treble. It was the first time Warrington had achieved cup success in the same season as winning the league Championship and the Lancashire League Cup.
Halifax must have been sick of the sight of Wire's troops. They met in the challenge Cup final at Wembley which ended 4-4, two penalties per team.
The replay took place 11 days later at Odsal Stadium before a world record crowd of 102,569. Many more did not get to the game because of horrendous travel congestion. Yorkshire had never seen anything like it and many historians now believe that as many as 120,000 people could have been on the ground that night.
Warrington were successful 8-4 with tries scored by Jim Challinor and Gerry Helme.
The Championship final, again between Warrington and Halifax, came only three days later at Maine Road, but this time there was only 36,519 in attendance.
Wire relied on the boot of prolific goalkicker Harry Bath to kick them to victory 8-7.
On the RL scene in general, France staged the first World Cup tournament in 1954. Great Britain won 16-12 after a play-off against France.
Tenth trophy in eight seasons
WARRINGTON secured the league championship for the second successive season in 1954/55.
It was a Brian Bevan try and two Harry Bath goals that secured the 7-3 victory over Oldham in the Championship final at Maine Road with 49,434 watching the game.
And with winning the Lancashire League too it was Warrington's 10th piece of silverware in eight years. Plus they had finished runners-up on four other occasions during that period, the best run of success the club has enjoyed in its entire history.
That Championship success was the last to date for Wire but they did reach the semi-finals again the year after following their Lancashire League success for the third time on the trot.
But Warrington were defeated 17-0 at the Boulevard. The biggest cheers of the year were for the club's three successes at Wigan, a rarity in those days too. There were Wire wins at Central Park in the Wardonia Cup, the Lancashire Cup and in the league.
End of the Road
WIRE'S magnificent successes of the early 1950s came to a sudden stop in 1956/57.
It turned into a transformation period for Warrington with many top names drawing to a close their Wire careers.
Full back or half back Eric Frodsham took no part in the campaign. Pack and goal-kicking ace Harry Bath and livewire scrum half Gerry Helme played half a season and then finished at Wilderspool. Danny Naughton played four games and then left.
Loose forward Bob Ryan played fewer games as he was coming towards the end of his Wire spell. Bill McFarlane missed a season and Brian Bevan struggled with injuries.
Bevan's absence was most notable because 1956/57 was the only season in his career in which he did not top the Wire try-scoring charts. That honour went to rising star Laurie Gilfedder with 22 from 39 games. He also kicked 57 goals.
Players having a bigger involvement in this campaign included Jim Challinor, Arthur Fryer and Alf Arnold while new arrivals included Dick Nicholls, Martin Regan, Tony Storey, Robin Thompson.
With so many changes it meant coach Ces Mountford used a total of 40 players during the campaign – the highest since World War Two and a figure that was not beaten until 1976/77.
It is not surprising that Wire finished 10th in the league. They did reach the semi-finals of the Lancashire Cup but lost to St Helens 17-9.
Attendances were below previous seasons' average and on January 19, 1957, Warrington took action by launching the club's lottery, which was to play an important part in the club's future finances.
It was a time for change with the stadium too. In 1958 the popular side terracing of the ground became fully covered and soon after the Fletcher Street End was rooved.
Ashcroft to follow footsteps of Kiwi
CES Mountford came through his Wilderspool transition period by bringing further glory to the club in 1959/60.
It ended a lull of four seasons without silverware, something Warrington fans were not used to after they had previously bagged 11 trophies in nine seasons.
Winning the Lancashire Cup in '59 was just as special as all the rest to Mountford.
The team played away from home all the way through to the final at Central Park, where Wire sneaked it 5-4 against St. Helens.
A year later Warrington were back in the Championship hunt again. Wire met Leeds at Bradford's Odsal Stadium in the Championship final but it was the Loiners who came out on top 25-10.
That 1961 final brought the end to Mountford's 10-year contract at the helm at Wilderspool.
The New Zealander's career at Warrington might not have ended quite how we would have liked it to but he had many good times to look back on with the team and throughout his spell with Warrington he steered many individuals to county and international glory.
That included Eric Fraser, Jim Challinor and Bobby Greenough who were in the Great Britain squad which won the World Cup – the last GB side to do so – in 1960.
Ernie Ashcroft, who had made 11 international appearances in his playing days at Wigan, had the unenviable task of following in the footsteps of Mountford.
Bye, bye Bevan … Hello Murphy
BRIAN Bevan's remarkable Warrington career came to an end in Ernie Ashcroft's first season as coach.
And the Australian flyer scored his 740th try in his 620th game to say a fond farewell to the Wire fans who were still a gaze in awe of the great wingman's presence.
The sidesteps, the swerves, the foolery, the speed – it all ended for the Wilderspool crowd on Easter Monday, 1962, an amazing 17 years after playing his first game as a trialist.
It was an emotional departure.
Bill Garvin wrote in his Warrington Rugby League Club centenary publication: "Leigh were defeated 29-17 and after the match was over the crowd gathered in front of the main stand chanting 'We want Bev'.
"He came into the stands and while he smiled and waved to the crowd, they sang Waltzing Matilda. It was a very moving occasion. The directors invited Brian into the boardroom where official goodbyes were said."
More than 16,000 fans turned up that day to give the world record try scorer a rousing send off.
Many on the terraces were saying such words as: "We'll never see the likes of him again. There will only ever be one Brian Bevan."
In his time at Wilderspool Warrington won 12 major trophies in as many seasons and many of his stunning tries had proved on occasions to be the difference between disappointment and success.
And it was probably no coincidence that Warrington took a long time to settle after Bevan's departure to Blackpool. Despite some well known names – the likes of Alistair Brindle, Jim Challinor, Tom Conroy, Henry Delooze, Jackie Edwards, Laurie Gilfedder, Bobby Greenough, Bill Payne and Charlie Winslade – the success of the fifties could not be repeated by coach Ashcroft.
There was a split to two divisions in 1962/63 with Warrington gaining sixth spot in the top flight but it was only after reverting to a one-division set up that Wire had renewed taste of glory.
Ashcroft won his only competition as Wire coach in the 1965/66 campaign, the Lancashire Cup. Warrington beat Rochdale Hornets in the final 16-5 with Ray Fisher, Brian Glover and Jackie Melling scoring tries. Glover was the new wing wizard at Wilderspool. He had topped the club's try scoring charts since Bevan's departure.
Also, for the first time in seven years, Warrington won the Silcock Cup, defeating Widnes in the final of the annual seven-a-side competition.
As well as league restructuring in this era there were some other important changes. Substitutes were used for the first time in 1964/65 with Joe Pickavance being Wire's first to wear a replacement's shirt.
A friendly was played against Wigan in 1965 to celebrate the installation of floodlights at Wilderspool. Warrington lost that game to the cherry and whites.
Success was proving difficult to come by for Warrington and, in a search for the man to turn the tide, Wire appointed new coaches in J. Fleming in 1967, Joe Egan in 1969 and then Peter Harvey in 1970.
Attendances had dwindled, costs were rising and the club were understandably having financial difficulties. After the glory days of the fifties, it was certainly a case of the dark days of the sixties.
The club was saved by a take-over bid from new chairman Ossie Davies and as part of the rescue package on May 20, 1971, Alex Murphy was appointed the new player/coach of the club.
The wonder of Murphy's magic
ALEX Murphy made a try-scoring debut as player coach for Wire in 1971.
Murphy, still on a high after steering Leigh to Challenge Cup glory three months earlier, also banged over a goal and drop goal as Wire knocked Whitehaven out of the Lancashire Cup.
But if fans had hopes of Murphy working overnight miracles, their hopes were short-lived.
After crashing out of the Lancashire Cup and the Floodlit Trophy the team created a club record eight successive defeats.
Murphy worked hard to find the winning formula and he introduced the likes of Wilf Briggs, Dave Chisnall, Geoff Clarkson, Dave Cunliffe, Toby Du Toit, George Heard, John Lowe, Derek Noonan, Frank Reynolds and Bobby Wanbon to Warrington's first team action.
It started to pay off in time for the Challenge Cup. Warrington reached the semi-finals, only missing out on a Wembley trip after losing a tense replay against St Helens.
Murphy had brought renewed optimism to Wilderspool and justifiably so. And his methods were having further rewards as average attendances had catapulted by more than a thousand.
Success followed in 1972/73. Warrington lost only one of their opening 22 games and ended the season with the League Leader's Trophy.
New arrivals that had helped Wire's cause included Kevin Ashcroft, Dennis Curling, John Hart, Clive Jones and Mike Nicholas.
Mike Philbin, Billy Pickup, Alan Whittle and Aussie Dave Wright joined the fold and it all led to Warrington's best season in history so far.
Welsh Rugby Union wonder John Bevan arrived just in time to enjoy it too. The former British Lion wingman signed on September 20, 1973. Three days later 'Bev' scored on his debut at home to Castleford.
What was to follow can only be described as phenomenal. The Captain Morgan Trophy competition was run for the first and only time and Wire clinched it with a final success over Featherstone.
Warrington followed that up with a defeat of Rochdale Hornets in the John Player final and then Murphy's men stormed to Challenge Cup success over Featherstone at Wembley.
The icing on the cake was the top eight play-off Trophy, secured after a 13-12 success over St. Helens.
It would have been too much to ask of Warrington to repeat their achievements in 1974/75. But they had a good go. Wire returned to Wembley only to have their celebrations spoiled by Widnes while they also had to settle for runners-up prize in the Floodlit Trophy.
There were honours for the Wilderspool ground too during this era. It staged its only Test match in December 1973, between Great Britain and Australia. The Kangaroos beat the Lions, and the freezing weather, 15-5 in front of 10,019 fans.
Then in 1975, Wilderspool staged the world cup clash between England and Wales.
NOTHING went right for Alex Murphy and his Warrington players in 1975/76.
The four-trophy haul of two seasons past seemed light years away.
They finished 10th in the league and crashed out of the Lancashire Cup and the BBC2 Floodlit Trophy competitions in the opening round.
Challenge Cup hopes ended in the third round at home to Widnes but they were lucky not to have been ditched in the first round by amateurs Leigh Miners at Wilderspool. Warrington struggled to a 16-12 success.
The club was on a low and the fans had grown to expect better from Murphy. So where had it all gone wrong?
Injuries played a big part. Tommy Martyn, Mike Nicholas, Parry Gordon and Barry Philbin missed huge chunks of the campaign. And some experienced players were transferred, including Kevin Ashcroft, Wilf Briggs, Derek Noonan, Dave Chisnall and Alan Whittle.
There was no silverware to shout about the season after but Wire's fortunes seemed to have changed.
Warrington, who finished a creditable fifth in the league, crashed out of the Premiership play-offs at the first hurdle, but yet appeared in the final.
The Rugby League Council ruled that Hull Kingston Rovers fielded an ineligible player (Phil Lowe) at the opening stage and the tie was awarded to Warrington.
Wire won through to the final but lost to St Helens at Swinton 32-20.
Stars of the season were John Bevan with 17 touch downs and Steve Hesford with 129 goals while Mike Kelly and Ken Kelly were two of the newcomers to the club.
It seems ironic then that after trophy success in 1977/78 Murphy's reign came to an end. Poor league form had left Wire dangerously close to the drop at one point and that meant Murphy lost many friends on the terraces.
Wire won the John Player Trophy 9-4 against Widnes at Knowsley Road, St Helens. A Bevan special sealed it. And there was a good run in the Challenge Cup too which was only ended by St Helens 14-8 in the semi-finals.
Murphy's last game in charge was a disappointing one – a 33-8 drubbing at Widnes in the Premiership play-offs. One of Murphy's last signings, Billy Benyon, was acting captain for this game. He was sent off for a high tackle. Less than two months later, he was the new Warrington boss.
He made an immediate impact as Wire finished runners-up in the league and the John Player Trophy in his first season as player coach.
This was the year Warrington beat the cocky Australian tourists 15-12 in front of a packed house at Wilderspool. And it was also the season when Steve Hesford kicked a club record 170 goals, 13 of which were one-pointers.
But the season ended on a sour note. In the Premiership play-offs semi-finals Bradford Northern triumphed 14-11 at Wilderspool. Ken Kelly had to miss out on the forthcoming Great Britain tour down under after breaking his jaw in a Len Casey tackle in the Northern match.
The club's centenary season brought about the resignation of chairman Ossie Davies, the man who had saved the club from extinction in 1971. Brian Pitchford was the new supremo.
Prop forward Roy Lester was sold to Fulham, becoming their first signing as Rugby League arrived in the capital for 1980/81, which happened to be Wire's best season under Benyon.
A marvellous display at Knowsley Road enabled Wire to stuff Second Division Wigan 26-10 in the Lancashire Cup final, their first county cup win for 15 years.
And after a titanic tussle in the John Player semi-finals with Castleford, which went to a replay, Warrington were too strong for Barrow at Central Park and scored a 12-5 success.
Rick Thackray, signed from Warrington Rugby Union Club, enjoyed his first full season with Wire scoring 15 tries. Bob Eccles started to show off his try-scoring prowess as well, touching down 15 times.
Warrington had another new coach in 1982, their former Challenge Cup medal winner Kevin Ashcroft. Benyon was later to win an unfair dismissal case against Warrington.
Ashcroft steered Warrington to Lancashire Cup glory in his first full season, a year marred by the Wilderspool fire which wiped out the complete main stand. It was also a season which saw the arrival of the sin bin and a decision at international board level to change the value of a try from three to four points.
Interesting to note too that in September 1982 Huddersfield chairman Roy Brook called for a 20-club Super League!
Best final In History?
KEVIN Ashcroft certainly knew how to get the best out of his giant Wire forward Bob Eccles.
The front or second rower scored a staggering 37 tries in Ashcroft's first full season in charge 1982/83.
His 22 tries in the Slalom Lager Championship were a league record for a forward and he equalled the John Player Trophy record of scoring five tries in one match at home to Blackpool Borough.
He had a trademark touch down style throughout this campaign. Eccles scored many tries from short range by using his skipper Ken Kelly as a dummy acting half back who would roll the ball through his legs, dart off one way, and then allowing Eccles to go the opposite way.
Eccles, during a run of scoring tries in nine successive games, was called into the Great Britain squad for his first and only Test appearance against the all conquering Australian tourists – 15 games played, 15 games won.
This was the realisation year. The Aussie game had jumped light years ahead of its British counterpart and there was a lot of catching up work to be done.
Many changes followed. Some of the Aussie stars joined English clubs as trading restrictions were lifted in time for 1983/84, the term in which Peter Higham took over from Brian Pitchford as the new club chairman.
While Warrington stuck to Kiwi Roby Muller and Maori man-mountain Pat Poasa, Hull Kingston Rovers snapped up Illawarra stand off and captain John Dorahy with neighbours Hull swooping for Peter Sterling and audacious Wakefield Trinity landing Kangaroo Test star Wally Lewis in a 10-match deal.
And as well as this campaign signalling the start of four-point tries, it also brought the handover rule for players being caught in possession on the sixth tackle.
Ashcroft's boys, wearing jerseys sponsored for the first time, took third spot in the league but were disappointing in the knockouts.
Wire's name appeared to be on the Lancashire Cup after a sensational second round success at St. Helens. Wire had three men sent off and St. Helens two after a 20th minute brawl.
Later, referee Stan Wall sent two Wire players to the sin bin and so for 20 minutes of the game they played with nine men against 11. Twice Warrington scored tries with only nine men on the field and recorded a thrilling 30-26 victory. All that effort was in vain when Wire lost at home to Barrow in the semi-finals.
Incidentally, Wire were fined £1,000 for the brawl at St. Helens, who were hit for £500.
Wire's classy centre Ronnie ‘Rhino' Duane toured with Great Britain Down Under and it lasted just nine minutes of the opening game against Northern Territory due to a serious knee injury.
Wire supporters were surprised when Warrington and Ashcroft parted company in May, 1984, despite the former Wire hooker still having two years of his contract to run.
The man who took over was ex-Widnes scrum half Reg Bowden, Wire's third new coach in six years.
Bowden's two-year spell at the helm was more notable for some of his signings, rather than success on the field.
He splashed out a world record fee for Great Britain and Widnes scrum half Andy Gregory, a deal which included part exchange for John Fieldhouse. He brought 'unknown' Bob Jackson from his former club Fulham.
And then in October 1985 Bowden shocked the whole of the Rugby League world by signing Les Boyd at the end of his long term suspension for alleged 'gouging'.
A week after the Kangaroo Test prop made his Wire debut, an Australian full back joined Warrington's ranks – the relatively unknown but none-the-less exciting Brian Johnson!
And both played a week later as Warrington lost the Lancashire cup final by the record defeat of 34-8 against Wigan at Knowsley Road.
Money had been spent but the rewards had not followed. Bowden resigned and loyal assistant coach Tony Barrow took over the reins in a caretaker role in March 1986.
Success soon followed. Victories at home against Widnes and away to Wigan put Wire in the final of the Premiership Trophy against champions Halifax at Elland Road, Leeds.
Fax did not know what had hit them as Barrow's boys ripped them to shreds to win 38-10. Many fans regarded this as Wire's greatest knockout final victory.
The team on that glorious day was: Paul Ford, Mark Forster, Paul Cullen, Ronnie Duane, Brian Crabert, Paul Bishop, Andy Gregory, Les Boyd, Kevin Tamati, Bob Jackson, Gary Sanderson, Mark Roberts, Mike Gregory. Subs: Brian Johnson, Billy McGinty.
Hesford, Johnson and Bishop break Wire records
WARRINGTON's 1986 Premiership Trophy triumph over Halifax was the perfect tonic for Tony Barrow's first full season in charge.
And it was the first campaign of the eighties that Warrington had gone into without the services of record-breaking goal kicker Steve Hesford.
The Blackpool-based full back ended his Wilderspool career with five club records to his name – most goals in career (1,159), most goals in a season (170 in 1979/80), most points in a career (2,416), most consecutive appearances (94), most drop goals in career (47).
Barrow's man with the golden boot was Paul Bishop, who broke a club record himself in 1986/87. His haul of 17 drop goals was a season's record. The year before he kicked five in one match, also a record, as Wire knocked Wigan out of the Premiership Trophy.
But there was no doubting the star of 86/87 – Brian Johnson. He crossed for 25 tries – the highest total ever for a Warrington full back.
He helped Wire to third place in the league and runners-up spot to Wigan in the John Player Trophy and in the revamped Premiership Trophy.
The latter had a new look, being staged at Old Trafford for the first time with a double-header format. The new Second Division play-offs final acted as a curtain-raiser to the First Division final.
Old Trafford was also used to stage a Test match for the first time, which attracted a British record 50,583 for the first Whitbread Trophy encounter between Great Britain and Australia.
GB scrum half Andy Gregory's dispute with Warrington was settled when Wigan paid a cash record £130,000 for him. Some of that was spent on recruiting Leigh's international winger Des Drummond a month later.
The season after saw the introduction of the players' contract system and random drug testing. It was a term which brought Warrington a runners-up spot to Wigan in the Lancashire Cup and British Coal Nines victory at Wigan with a 24-0 final success over The Rest of the World.
In November 1988, there was a change at the top. Brian Johnson took over as the new chief.
He was an instant success with the fans by leading Wire to almost Challenge Cup semi-final glory over Wigan at Maine Road. Only a 60-yard Joe Lydon drop goal and a late try knocked the stuffing out of Wire.
Two months later the two sides clashed again on neutral soil – this time as a promotional game at the County Stadium, Milwaukee, America.
Silverware success came the season after as Wire stormed to glory in the Lancashire Cup final over Oldham – Wire's ninth win on the trot.
And better still Johnson secured Warrington their first trip to Wembley for 15 years to face Wigan in the final of the Challenge Cup. Bogy side Wigan secured a 36-14 victory preventing Wire's GB skipper Mike Gregory from the magic moment of lifting the trophy.
In 1990/91 Warrington gained their second trophy in successive seasons. This time it was the Regal trophy with a 12-2 win over Bradford Northern at Headingley, Leeds. Johnson's first professional Wire signing, Mark Thomas, scored the winning try.
A game in turmoil as news of Sky's Super League hits home with fans
BRIAN Johnson's honeymoon period at the helm of Warrington Rugby League Club ended after two years.
No more trophies followed and league form suffered while finance was not available to match the kind of £440,000 transfer fee Wigan paid out to Widnes for Martin Offiah in 1991/92.
Instead, Wire's money was going into their youth policy at Academy level, the new league for 16 to 18-year-olds at professional clubs.
Wire's league form was suffering, attendances were dwindling at Wilderspool and by the end of 1992/93 – which saw the arrival of Friday night RL on Sky TV – many fans believed it was time for a change of coach.
Club chairman Peter Higham and his board of directors felt otherwise and their audacious signing of rugby superstar Jonathan Davies – on a free transfer – turned the club around.
Cash-hit Widnes had to off-load the Welsh wizard because of his huge contract which Warrington were to finance through a special company sponsorship.
The town was buzzing with the arrival of Davies, the captain of the Wales RL team which had been reformed in 1991/92.
At the end of centre Davies's first season Warrington had missed out on the championship by the narrowest margin of points difference to Wigan and Bradford Northern, attendances had peaked to a 20-year high and Davies had won the Man of Steel and First Division Player of the Year awards.
Expectation was high for the season after but Johnson and his team could not find the desired consistency. Matchwinner Davies damaged his shoulder in Great Britain's first Test defeat of Australia at Wembley and Warrington were lacking without him.
Wire did manage to put some form together to reach the final of the Regal Trophy at Huddersfield's new 19,000 all-seater McAlpine Stadium but they were blasted off the park 40-10 by the game's dominant force Wigan.
Two months later came the news that was to shock the whole of the RL world.
Media magnate Rupert Murdoch announced he was to launch a rebel league in Australia and followed that up with a proposal for a European Super League.
The £77 million offer from News Corporation Ltd – later to become £87m – was too good for the visionary club chairmen to resist in Britain, as the game was in a state of financial ruin. With acceptance of the money came the formation of a 1996 14-club Super League, mergers of clubs, inclusion of teams from Paris and Toulouse, a switch to summer rugby and the playing of international football only against other Murdoch-allied countries.
One of the planned mergers was Warrington and Widnes to represent Cheshire and it brought an outcry in both towns from ardent followers of the game. The same situation applied with other planned mergers.
On Good Friday 1995, two hours before kick off at Naughton Park for the traditional Widnes and Warrington Bank Holiday game, RL chief executive Maurice Lindsay phoned the ground from France to say that Toulouse had pulled out of Super League and that Widnes had their own place alongside Warrington.
The Rugby League were hit by legal action from Keighley Cougars, the Second Division Champions, who had missed out on a place in Super League and anti-merger campaigns continued in the north of England.
Members of Parliament spoke out against the Murdoch Super League deal in a special House of Commons debate and there was high-profile media coverage of the whole issue.
Club chairmen decided to look again at the structure for Super League and came up with a three-division 12-11-10 format with the Super League comprising the top ten clubs from the 1994/95 season plus London and Paris. That meant that Warrington were in but Widnes were out and the Chemics then launched a High Court battle over their omission.
Ironically, the biggest change to Rugby League in its entire history heralded the start of the game's 1995-96 centenary season, the last campaign to be played in winter.
It was a season cut short to make way for Super League and it carried a one-month break of action to make way for the Centenary World Cup which was staged in Britain.
Wilderspool played hosts to Tonga and New Zealand for a group game but the Australian Rugby League national team went on to clinch success over England at Wembley.
It was a season that never really got going and Warrington had to pay the price for a heavy fixture schedule that saw them play five games in the opening 14 days. Injuries mounted up and Warrington never really fully recovered.
Warrington reached the semi-finals of the Regal Trophy and were paired away to much-improved St. Helens.
That semi-final turned out to be the blackest day in Warrington's history. No-one could possibly have contemplated the 80-0 mauling that was Warrington's heaviest defeat.
Coach Brian Johnson resigned the morning after and his assistant Clive Griffiths was left to pick up the pieces as caretaker coach for the rest of the league season.
Griffiths, the Wales coach, was overlooked for the top job with Wire raising their profile in the media by landing the double act of Alex Murphy as rugby football executive and John Dorahy as coach (rugby football manager).
The new regime led to Academy coach Kevin Tamati and assistant coach Griffiths leaving Wilderspool before the Super League season was due to kick off for Wire at Leeds on March 31.
The 12 teams in the first season of Super League were Bradford Bulls, Castleford Tigers, Halifax, Leeds, London Broncos, Paris St. Germain, Sheffield Eagles, Warrington, Wigan, Workington Town.
The rebel Australian Super League did not kick off on time after a battle with the Australian Rugby League ended up in court with Super League being ruled unlawful.
Super League 1 - 1996
THE 1996 season witnessed a major turning point in the history of not only Warrington RLFC, but of rugby league as a whole.
This was the first season of Super League, with teams from Paris St Germain and London Broncos competing alongside the traditional northern heavyweights of the sport.
The times were changing quickly - and the Super League revolution swept away the sport's traditional winter fixtures, bringing instead a calendar of summer games which would allow the stars to show off their skills in the best possible conditions. Before Super League began, Wire - under the guidance of Australian coach John Dorahy - were involved in Challenge Cup action.
They started off with a 26-4 win at Oldham, but then suffered a disappointing 30-10 defeat at home to Leeds in the next round. Warrington's inaugural Super League game took place at Headingley on Sunday, March 31, and it was to be an exciting and successful start to the summer era, as the men from Wilderspool edged a 22-18 victory in a thrilling clash against Leeds, gaining revenge for their Challenge Cup defeat. Wire's tries came from Iestyn Harris, Ian Knott and Mateaki Mafi, with Harris landing five goals.
By the end of April, Wire had won four of their first five games - the only blemish being a 42-12 thumping at Central Park, Wigan - and were sitting pretty in third place in the table.
Fans were being thrilled by the try-scoring exploits of two new signings, the Kiwi duo Toa Kohe-Love and Richard Henare, whose silky skills and blistering pace were making them firm favourites of the Wilderspool faithful.
May, however, proved not such a merry month for Wire, who lost 36-14 at Bradford and also fell to an agonising 25-24 home defeat at the hands of unbeaten league leaders St Helens.
A mixed bag of results followed in June. Wire notched a narrow 26-24 win in Paris, with exciting youngsters Jon Roper and Paul Sculthorpe getting on the scoresheet, but they also suffered a 35-24 loss at Oldham and were humiliated 21-0 by arch-rivals Wigan in front of 8,103 fans at Wilderspool.
As the month came to an end, Wire found themselves in fourth place, behind St Helens, Wigan and Bradford but still with a three-point cushion over fifth-placed London.
A wretched July then did much to scupper Warrington's top-four ambitions, with defeats away to Halifax and Sheffield and at home to Bradford. A 49-4 win away to bottom-placed Workington, with Mark Forster scoring two tries, lifted the spirits briefly, and although Wire ended the month still placed fourth, London were now just a point adrift. August began with Wire slipping out of the top four following a 20-13 loss away to the Broncos, but wins against Castleford and Oldham put them back in fourth place with just one round to go.
However, the season ended on an emphatic low for the primrose and blue legions, as Wire slumped to a 66-14 hammering at St Helens while London thumped Castleford 56-0 to seal fourth spot and a place in the Premiership.
St Helens' win over Warrington on the final day was enough to make them the inaugural Super League champions, with Wigan a point behind in second place. Warrington finished in fifth spot, with a record of 12 wins and 10 defeats from their 22 games.
Henare was the club's leading try-scorer with 17, while brilliant youngster Harris scored four tries and kicked 67 goals plus two drop goals for a 152-point haul. It was a season which had started with so much promise, but which ended on a sour note, with four defeats in the final six games and with an unhappy Harris announcing that he wanted a move away from Wilderspool.
Wire squad: Paul Barrow, Andy Bennett, Gary Chambers, Paul Cullen, Andy Currier, Gareth Davies, Chris Eckersley, Salesi Finau, Mike Ford, Mark Forster, Iestyn Harris, Richard Henare, Mark Hilton, Chris Holden, John Hough, Paul Hulme, Mark Jones, Ronnie Kettlewell, Ian Knott, Toa Kohe-Love, Mateaki Mafi, Lee Penny, Jon Roper, Chris Rudd, Paul Sculthorpe, Kelly Shelford, Warren Stevens, Phil Sumner, Willie Swann, Mike Wainwright, Kris Watson.
Super League 2 - 1997
AFTER the disappointment of narrowly missing the top four the previous year, Warrington began Super League 2 with fresh optimism and a new nickname - the Wolves.
A quartet of high-profile signings - former Great Britain hooker Martin Dermott and the Kiwi trio of prop Dallas Mead, second rower Tony Tatupu and utility back Nigel Vagana - had come to Wilderspool and hopes were high that the Wolves fans would be howling with delight in 1997. Sadly, it was not to be.
The Iestyn Harris dispute had not been resolved, and the young star eventually packed his bags and moved to Leeds for £300,000 early in the season. And there was further bad news on the field as Warrington lost 29-10 at home to Salford in the Challenge Cup quarter-finals and then crashed to defeat in their first three games of the Super League campaign, after which coach John Dorahy left the club.
A daunting opener at Odsal saw the Wolves ripped apart by Bradford Bulls in a 58-20 hammering, with Vagana and Tatupu scoring a debut try apiece. A Richard Henare hat-trick could not prevent the Wolves from slipping to a 38-18 defeat at home to London, and then a 32-18 loss at Sheffield left the Wolves at rock bottom.
Remarkably, the club's first points of the season came at home to Wigan on March 31, as a Vagana hat-trick helped to seal a famous 35-24 win in front of 7,213 surprised fans at Wilderspool. Alex Murphy and Paul Cullen took charge of the side that day, but soon afterwards the Wolves appointed Australian Darryl Van de Velde as their new coach.
April also saw the unfortunate Mead released from his contract after suffering a serious injury. With confidence restored following the Wigan game, the Wolves went on to win three of their next four matches, beating Oldham, Castleford and Paris - but it was then that the wheels well and truly came off.
In their next 14 outings - which included eight Super League games and six in the inaugural World Club Challenge - the Wolves won just once, a narrow 25-22 success against Halifax at Wilderspool.
The horror run began with a 42-30 loss at Halifax, where new £65,000 signing Lee Briers scored his first Wolves try, and continued with heavy defeats by Bradford, London, Sheffield and Leeds.
In the World Club Challenge, the Wolves hosted Cronulla Sharks, Penrith Panthers and Auckland Warriors, and were blown away in all three games in front of disappointingly low crowds. When the Wolves made the trip Down Under for the return fixtures, they again failed to register a win, although the 16-4 defeat at Auckland was at least respectable.
The Wolves picked up slightly in August, with wins over Salford, Paris and Castleford, but for the fans and players alike, the end of Super League 2 couldn't come quickly enough.
A record of eight wins from 22 games saw the Wolves finish in ninth place, with Vagana's 22 touchdowns making him the league's top try-scorer.
Bradford Bulls, with 20 wins and just two defeats, were runaway winners of the Super League title. For the Wolves, though, it had proved to be a year of turmoil on and off the pitch, with players coming and going with bewildering frequency.
Club stalwart Paul Cullen finally succumbed to injuries and retired in July, star winger Henare was sacked in August following off-the-field problems, while a trio of senior professionals - Paul Hulme, George Mann and Richie Eyres - arrived mid-season to try to pull the side out of its slump.
But amid all the changes, it was the loss of the mercurial Harris which hurt the most - and still does.
Wolves squad: Paul Barrow, Liam Bretherton, Lee Briers, Martin Carney, Chris Causey, Gary Chambers, Andy Currier, Paul Derbyshire, Gareth Davies, Martin Dermott, John Duffy, Andrew Duncan, Richie Eyres, Salesi Finau, Mark Forster, Shaun Geritas, Iestyn Harris, Richard Henare, Chris Highton, Mark Hilton, Chris Holden, John Hough, Paul Hulme, Ian Knott, Toa Kohe-Love, Mateaki Mafi, George Mann, Dallas Mead, Anthony Murray, David 'Doc' Murray, Lee Penny, Carl Roden, Jon Roper, Chris Rudd, Paul Sculthorpe, Kelly Shelford, Warren Stevens, Willie Swann, Tony Tatupu, Tony Thorniley, Nigel Vagana, Mike Wainwright, Paul Wingfield.
Super League 3 - 1998
IT was once again a case of all-change as the Wolves embarked on their third Super League campaign.
Great Britain loose forward Paul Sculthorpe had left the club during the winter in a £370,000 deal with St Helens which had seen Chris Morley come to Wilderspool. And for his first full season in charge, coach Darryl Van de Velde looked overseas to bolster a squad which had under-performed so badly the previous year.
In came a quartet of Australian imports - hooker Danny Farrar from Penrith Panthers, prop Danny Nutley and centre Michael Eagar from South Queensland Crushers, and stand-off Adam Doyle from Western Suburbs. And also making their way to Wilderspool were former Great Britain forward Steve McCurrie, who had been playing rugby union for Bedford, ex-St Helens prop Adam Fogerty, plus winger Jason Roach and Kiwi back rower Brendon Tuuta from Castleford.
It was Roach who made the first big impression, scoring four tries on his debut as the Wolves routed Wakefield 42-6 in the Challenge Cup. Roach again crossed for a try in the next round, but the Wolves bowed out after a battling 35-22 loss at St Helens.
When it came to the big kick-off in Super League, the Wolves again got away to a disastrous start, losing their first four games to Leeds, Salford, London and finally St Helens, in a match played at Liverpool FC's Anfield home.
The Wolves' first league win of the season came on May 10, when Halifax were the visitors to Wilderspool, Toa Kohe-Love grabbing a brace of tries in a 31-20 victory. This marked the start of a purple patch for Van de Velde's men, who then won three and drew one of their next five games, starting with a fine 33-18 home win against Castleford in which McCurrie - making quite an impact on his return to the rugby league ranks - rumbled in for two tries.
Hull Sharks were harpooned at The Boulevard as the Wolves notched their first away win of the season, then after a shock 28-6 defeat at Huddersfield, the Wolves outmuscled Bradford Bulls 28-10 and drew 18-18 with Sheffield Eagles in consecutive home games.
This upturn in fortunes had left the Wolves in contention for a top-five finish and a place in the first Super League play-offs, but they then suffered three defeats in four games, culminating in a 23-16 loss in a 'roadshow' game against Castleford which was played in Cardiff.
From this point, the Wolves' season simply nosedived, with only two wins, at home to Hull and Huddersfield, coming from their last nine games. In the final game of the campaign, derby rivals Wigan pulled off a 30-24 win at Wilderspool in a game which marked the debut of another Aussie import, the former Canterbury stand-off Scott Wilson.
In another gloomy season for the Wilderspool faithful, the Wolves finished in 10th place, with just seven wins and one draw from their 23 games. Veteran winger Mark Forster was the club's top try-scorer, with 11.
This year was the first in which the Super League title was decided via a play-off system rather than on final league positions, and it was Wigan Warriors and Leeds Rhinos who fought through to the inaugural Grand Final at Old Trafford. It proved to be a tense tussle in front of 43,553 fans at the Theatre of Dreams, with Wigan edging home 10-4 thanks to a try from winger Jason Robinson and three Andy Farrell goals.
Wolves squad: Lee Briers, Chris Causey, Gary Chambers, Will Cowell, Adam Doyle, John Duffy, Michael Eagar, Danny Farrar, Vince Fawcett, Phil Finney, Adam Fogerty, Mark Forster, David Highton, Mark Hilton, Ian Knott, Toa Kohe-Love, Steve McCurrie, Chris Morley, Danny Nutley, Mike Pechey, Lee Penny, Jason Roach, Jon Roper, Chris Rudd, Warren Stevens, Brendon Tuuta, Mike Wainwright, Danny Whittle, Scott Wilson.
Super League 4 - 1999
THE Wolves went fishing for a Shark in the build-up to the new campaign - and they made an impressive catch as Great Britain threequarter Alan Hunte joined the club from Hull.
With tough-tackling former Canterbury second-rower Simon Gillies also on board, along with two Deans - Busby and Hanger - coach Darryl Van de Velde had good reason to be optimistic about the year ahead.
And the feel-good vibe was further enhanced when it was revealed that the Wolves - now under new ownership - had signed up former Bradford Bulls marketing guru Peter Deakin as their new chief executive.
Big home wins over Featherstone and Halifax in the early rounds of the Challenge Cup had the town buzzing, and when a superb Toa Kohe-Love try helped to set up an opening Super League win against Halifax at a waterlogged New Shay, it really looked as though the Wolves were on the march.
A 52-16 hammering in the Challenge Cup quarter-finals at Bradford brought everyone at the club down to earth with a massive bump, but the Wolves showed plenty of resilience to bounce back in Super League.
Kiwi centre Kohe-Love, now back to his blistering best after being dogged by injuries, tore in for two tries as Castleford were defeated 19-14 at Wilderspool, Jason Roach scored twice in a 26-22 win at Salford, and a last-minute try from winger Mark Forster secured a thrilling home win over Super League new boys Gateshead Thunder.
Warrington were now flying high in the league table, and even after narrow defeats at the hands of big guns Wigan and Bradford, there was still a feeling that the Wolves could be genuine top-five contenders.
Half-backs Scott Wilson and Lee Briers shone as the Wolves produced a capital performance to win 30-18 at London, and Jon Roper then helped himself to two tries as Sheffield Eagles were put to the sword in a 40-4 romp at Wilderspool.
A 33-22 win away to Hull kept the Wolves camp in high spirits, and when Leeds came to Wilderspool to play their fifth game in 16 days, a home win looked on the cards. However, despite another brace of tries from Kohe-Love, it was the men from Headingley who pulled off a fine 28-10 win to silence the home fans.
A major turning point in the season came when the Wolves travelled to Castleford to face their fellow play-off hopefuls and slumped to a 39-6 trouncing, with ex-Warrington half-back Francis Maloney tormenting his former team-mates with a hat-trick of tries.
The Wolves picked themselves up to beat Salford and draw 17-17 with Wigan, and then Gillies and Kohe-Love scored hat-tricks in wins against London and Sheffield respectively. But defeats by Gateshead and Bradford had hit the Wolves' play-off hopes, and when they travelled to Headingley for a do-or-die clash with Leeds, they were pipped 34-30 in a televised classic.
That defeat seemed to knock the stuffing out of Van de Velde's men and after a win against lowly Huddersfield, their campaign fizzled out with a run of five straight defeats, including a last-gasp 23-22 loss at Halifax and culminating in a home 48-22 thrashing by Gateshead on the final day of the regular season.
Despite their late slump, the Wolves managed to finish in seventh place - a decent improvement on the previous season but still an under-achievement given the talent within the squad.
There was some personal consolation for Kohe-Love, as his glittering haul of 28 touchdowns saw him finish joint-top of the national try-scoring chart.
Meanwhile, St Helens and Bradford came through the play-off series to reach the Old Trafford final, with Saints edging home in an enthralling contest thanks to a second-half try from Kiwi centre Kevin Iro.
Wolves squad: Lee Briers, Dean Busby, Chris Causey, Gary Chambers, Will Cowell, John Duffy, Danny Farrar, Mark Forster, Simon Gillies, Dean Hanger, David Highton, Mark Hilton, Alan Hunte, Ian Knott, Toa Kohe-Love, Andy Leathem, Steve McCurrie, Danny Nutley, Lee Penny, Jason Roach, Jon Roper, Ian Sibbit, Warren Stevens, Mike Wainwright, Scott Wilson.
Super League 5 - 2000
SEASON ticket sales for Super League 5 went through the roof at Wilderspool as coach Darryl Van de Velde pulled off three of the highest-profile and most exciting signings ever made by the club.
Legendary Australian Test scrum-half Allan Langer came out of a brief retirement to wear the primrose and blue along with his long-time Brisbane Broncos colleague Andrew Gee, one of the world's toughest prop forwards, while New Zealand international Tawera Nikau chose to leave behind Aussie Grand Final winners Melbourne Storm in favour of the Wolves.
With England half-back Steve Blakeley moving to Wilderspool from Salford and French international second rower Jerome Guisset joining from Canberra Raiders, all the pundits were predicting a top-five finish for Warrington.
Unfortunately, the team failed to live up to the hype, despite getting their season off to a magnificent start with thumping Challenge Cup wins over NFP sides Hunslet Hawks and York Wasps.
The opening round of Super League saw London Broncos thrashed 48-18 at Wilderspool, with Alan Hunte grabbing two tries, and a week later Hunte was again the hero, his last-minute touchdown giving the Wolves a thrilling win away to Salford City Reds in a televised Challenge Cup quarter-final.
There was now a real belief that the Wolves were in for a season to remember, but two successive defeats by the Bradford Bulls - 58-4 at Odsal in Super League and 44-20 in the Challenge Cup semi-final at Headingley - proved that the Wolves squad was still not ready to consistently challenge the sport's big four of St Helens, Wigan Warriors, Bradford and Leeds Rhinos.
With confidence naturally low after the Bradford games, the Wolves slumped to two more defeats, at home to Hull FC and, agonisingly, away to Wakefield Trinity Wildcats, where a last-minute error by Dean Busby gifted the home team their winning try.
Successive wins at home to Leeds - with promising young centre Ian Sibbit scoring two tries - and away to Halifax Blue Sox seemed to put the Wolves' season back on track, only for derby defeats at home to St Helens and away to Wigan to once again expose the side's weaknesses.
A narrow win away to Huddersfield-Sheffield Giants and successive defeats away to Salford and at home to Castleford Tigers created further gloom for the Wolves.
But if there was one thing you could rely on in Super League 5 it was Warrington's unpredictability, and on May 28 Wilderspool witnessed a remarkable game as the Wolves overturned an 18-point half-time deficit to beat the mighty Bradford Bulls 42-32 - the Challenge Cup winners' first defeat of the season.
An away win over London, in a roadshow game at Newport RUFC, gave the Wolves another lift, but their season then nosedived in spectacular fashion.
The Wolves lost six of their next seven matches, culminating in a humiliating 44-24 defeat by rock bottom Huddersfield-Sheffield at Wilderspool in a rollercoaster game wich had seen on-loan winger Rob Smyth race in for four tries in the first half-hour of his Warrington debut.
Frustration on the terraces turned to anger with this defeat and glum-faced supporters staged a sit-in protest after the game, calling for the resignation of Van de Velde.
The Aussie coach did not quit, though, and the game was to prove a turning point in the season, as the Wolves addressed their problems and went on to win six of their final eight games to finish sixth - their highest placing in four seasons.
The end-of-season play-offs resulted in a Lancashire derby at Old Trafford, with St Helens and Wigan contesting the Grand Final.
And what a game it was, with Saints hanging on for an exciting 29-16 win despite a brave second-half rally from the Pie-eaters.
For Warrington, though, it had proved to be another disappointing season in which there had been some notable departures.
Blakeley quit Wilderspool in favour of his former club Salford after only a few months, and Jon Roper went on loan to London and Salford before being released at the end of the season.
Also released in an end-of-season clear-out were:
Veteran former Great Britain winger Mark Forster, who was deemed surplus to requirements in the year of his double testimonial.
Popular Aussie hooker Danny Farrar, who chose to retire from the game after three hard-grafting years at Wilderspool.
England prop Mark Hilton, whose once-promising career sadly continues to be disrupted by serious injuries.
Jerome Guisset, who enjoyed his year in England but chose to return to his native France.
Off the field, too, it was a season of turmoil for the Wolves. Chief executive Peter Deakin quit towards the end of the campaign to join rugby union outfit Sale Sharks, long-serving assistant coach Paul Cullen left to take over the reins at Whiteheaven, and as the season ended, a vital planning application for a new stadium on Winwick Road was still to be decided upon, although Warrington Borough Council had given the plan its approval.
Despite all the problems and disappointments of 2000, though, Wolves fans can still look forward to better things in 2001, especially if the stadium proposal finally gets the go-ahead. With new signings Kevin Walters, Rob Smyth and Martin Masella coming to the club for Super League 6, and an exciting batch of youngsters such as Paul Noone, Jamie Stenhouse, Will Cowell, Mark Gleeson, Dave Alstead, Dave Highton and Paul Wood ready to make their mark, the play-offs should be a realistic aim next season.
Wolves squad: David Alstead, Steve Blakeley, Lee Briers, Dean Busby, Chris Campbell, Gary Chambers, Will Cowell, Danny Farrar, Mark Forster, Andrew Gee, Mark Gleeson, Jerome Guisset, David Highton, Mark Hilton, Alan Hunte, Ian Knott, Toa Kohe-Love, Allan Langer, Steve McCurrie, Tawera Nikau, Paul Noone, Danny Nutley, Neil Parsley, Lee Penny, Mike Peters, Jon Roper, Ian Sibbit, Rob Smyth, Jamie Stenhouse, Paul Wood.