Kevin Brown returns to haunt Widnes as Warrington advance in Challenge Cup
Kevin Brown knocked his old club out of the Ladbrokes Challenge Cup with a virtuoso performance in Warrington's gripping 34-20 sixth-round win over Widnes.
The England stand-off was roundly booed by the Vikings fans still angry over his decision to leave them in the close season for their arch-rivals but he had the last laugh with a sensational hat-trick of tries.
The Wolves needed all the craft and experience of the former Wigan and Huddersfield captain to help them see off a gritty Widnes team that made light of a crippling injury list to push them all the way in an absorbing tie at the Halliwell Jones Stadium.
The Vikings, without 12 senior players, twice held the lead and were level at 20-20 after 63 minutes but Brown broke their resistance with his third try before Matty Russell and Chris Hill added further efforts in the last eight minutes to give their side a flattering margin of victory.
Widnes coach Denis Betts handed a debut to 18-year-old winger Lloyd Roby and a first start to centre Liam Walsh while 17-year-old Danny Walker made a major impact from the bench as the visitors went desperately close to springing an upset.
The Vikings, bottom of Super League with just two wins from their first 13 matches, took the lead with a 15th-minute try from former Wigan forward Greg Burke who charged onto Aaron Heremaia's short pass from dummy half.
Warrington centre Ryan Atkins brought his side level when he sliced through for a try midway through the first half and then Brown took centre stage.
The former Vikings captain stole the ball in a one-on-one tackle on Patrick Ah Van and, when he was held down in cynical fashion by full-back Rhys Hanbury, referee James Child had little option but to brandish a yellow card.
Hanbury clearly felt it was worth taking one for the team but the Wolves took advantage of the extra man when Brown jinked his way over for a try that put his side in front, moments after prop Ashton Sims had been denied by video referee Ben Thaler.
Stefan Ratchford's second conversion made it 12-6 and that is how it stayed for the rest of the half as Widnes battled manfully.
Even when they were still down to 12 men, they managed to cause plenty of problems for the home side, with Eamon O'Carroll, Heremaia and Hep Cahill all thrown back from the line and Manase Manuokafoa brought back for a forward pass.
The visitors threatened once more to cause an upset when substitute forward James Chapelhow stretched out for a try after running the ball from first receiver five minutes into the second half.
Ah Van levelled the scores with the touchline conversion and made it three goals from as many attempts five minutes later with a penalty that restored his side's lead.
Kev Brown: Hat-trick hero against his old club pic.twitter.com/cVv0Tu81zd— The Challenge Cup (@TheChallengeCup) May 14, 2017
It lasted just two minutes, however, for Brown showed his class with a trademark jinking run that brought him his second try.
Ratchford kicked his third conversion and kicked a 62nd-minute penalty to re-establish a six-point lead but it evaporated just as quickly as Walker burst through the heart of the Warrington defence to get Ah Van over for a third try.
The winger kicked his fourth goal to lock the scores up for a third time but Brown came to Warrington's rescue, making a dart for the line and somehow managing to free an arm to get the ball down despite the attention of four defenders.
That proved the killer blow for Widnes, whose over-worked defence cracked twice more in the closing stages.