Warrington coach Tony Smith felt his players dug themselves out of trouble after surviving a scare against Championship leaders Leigh in their Ladbrokes Challenge Cup quarter-final.
The Super League club trailed 14-12 after a ferocious first half at the Halliwell Jones Stadium but fought back to snatch a semi-final spot with a 34-24 victory.
After losing three of their previous four Super League games, the pressure was on the Wolves to deliver in a competition they have won three times since 2009 and Smith was pleased with the response.
He said: “I didn’t have to say a lot at half-time. They knew - they just needed to hang onto the ball and finish off their last plays.
“We just weren’t concentrating right to the end of the sets. I thought we were doing okay, we were marching down the field well and if we had held onto the ball we could have had a comfortable lead.
“So the boys knew. I just had to reinforce it. I would like to take credit for a half-time team-talk but they are smart boys. They knew what was needed and they went out and did it.”
Warrington crossed twice in the first half through Ashton Sims and Ben Currie but Leigh came from behind to lead at the interval with Greg Worthington, Ryan Brierley and Gregg McNally touchdowns.
A brilliant quickfire double from Kevin Penny and another try from George King swung the game back in the Wolves’ favour. Leigh battled on with further Brierley and Tom Armstrong tries but Currie’s second kept the plucky visitors at arm’s length.
Smith said: “All credit to Leigh. They came here and came up with what they are capable of. They are a dangerous team. I thought they had a real dig.
“I didn’t think their forwards matched our boys but they were spirited and didn’t give up. It was a great turnout from the crowd, made it a great atmosphere.”
Leigh had twice beaten Super League opposition in Salford and Wakefield in previous rounds and a huge Centurions following made the eight-mile journey to Warrington anticipating another upset.
Coach Paul Rowley felt his team had done the fans proud and will now hope to build on the cup run with a concerted push for promotion via the new ‘middle eight’ qualifying competition.
Rowley said: “We certainly didn’t want to come here and be gallant losers. That’s what’s happened but the thing we have learned is we can compete with top-end Super League. That is a pretty comfortably yardstick.
“I thought they were two evenly-matched sides out there today. It is small margins and they got it. I don’t want to take anything away from Warrington, we have a lot of respect for them, but I am sure if anyone didn’t have respect for us, they will now.”
Victory came at a cost for Warrington with forward James Laithwaite, who was playing as a makeshift centre, suffering a season-ending leg-break after a heavy tackle late in the first half. Play was held up for several minutes as Laithwaite received treatment before being carried off on a stretcher.
“James has a spiral fracture of the fibula. I’m gutted for the kid,” said Smith. “He was filling in for us at centre and doing a fine job. He’s obviously finished for the year.”
Smith also revealed winger Joel Monaghan would be out for four weeks after tearing a calf in training while centre Chris Bridge also picked up a knock during the week. Full-back Stefan Ratchford was also doubtful prior to the game with a dead leg.
Smith said the number of injuries his squad is suffering is a cause for concern and suggested the club may need to look at moving their default, non-televised, home games from Sundays in future.
He said: “We’ll have to consider what our speccies want to do but if you want a winning team you can’t afford to play Sundays any more, unfortunately. Because if you then draw the TV game on Thursday or Friday, you just disadvantage yourself.
“All the big teams play home games on Fridays. We have got to consider this.”