Warrington escape English winter by heading down under


Warrington are to sidestep a potential repeat of last year's frozen conditions by escaping for three weeks of warm-weather training down under.

The Wolves will be timing their exit nicely after wind damage to a Halliwell Jones Stadium stand roof this week.

But, however pleasant it proves in Australia, Tony Smith's side will still be without two key men when they kick off their season at Hull on 5 February.

Both Brett Hodgson and Richie Myler are expected to miss the first month.

Full-back Hodgson is still recovering from an ankle injury, while Myler suffered a dislocated elbow during the Boxing Day friendly against Widnes. And, although both are booked on Saturday's flight to Sydney, Smith is resigned to starting the new season without them.

"Richie's progressing pretty well," said the Wolves coach. "The expectation is for him to be back playing at the start of March and anything prior to that will be a bonus."

Myler's former Salford team-mate Stefan Ratchford, one of three major close-season signings, is favourite to fill in at scrum-half in the short term but faces competition from Chris Bridge, Simon Grix, Michael Monaghan and 19-year-old Gareth O'Brien.

The teenager caught the eye while making a try-scoring debut against Castleford last May, only to sustain a serious knee injury a week later. But he is now fully fit and in a 25-strong squad for last season's Super League table toppers to take part in a training camp, culminating in a friendly match against Russell Crowe's South Sydney Rabbitohs at the Redfern Oval on 28 January - a week before the start of the season.

"He's got the all-clear and he's flying now," said Smith. "He'll get a run-out against South Sydney. He's a terrific young talent and we've got high hopes for his future.

"Stefan Ratchford will also get an opportunity to put his name forward. I'd feel comfortable playing him in any position in the backline and possibly a couple of positions in the scrum if we had to. Part of his attraction was his versatility."

Meanwhile, although Warrington have been forced to repair the roof of their west stand after it was damaged in the storms, the strong winds did not affect work on filling in the corners of the east stand.

The improvements are due to be completed by the start of the new season, increasing the Halliwell Jones capacity from just over 13,000 to around 15,000.