Smith ready to make tough calls
Warrington Wolves coach Tony Smith is considering changing a winning line-up for Saturday’s Grand Final against Leeds Rhinos.
Smith revealed his “horses for courses” selection policy at a press conference at Old Trafford, the venue for the 15th Super League title decider.
The Wolves boss has a full-strength squad to choose from, with England prop Garreth Carvell and Ireland forward Tyrone McCarthy hoping to force their way back into the reckoning.
Both were in the Wolves team that beat Leeds 35-18 in the Challenge Cup final at Wembley in August but were reduced to the role of spectators for last Saturday’s 36-18 semi-final win at St Helens.
“It’s horses for courses so we’ll make some changes if we feel it is necessary,” said Smith. “We’ll pick on form as well as reputation.”
Back-rower Simon Grix, who has missed out on all three of Warrington’s Wembley appearances in the last four years, and prop Mike Cooper were the ones to benefit from the absence of Carvell and McCarthy - and both boosted their chances of appearing in their club’s maiden Grand Final.
“I was tempted to pick Carvell,” admitted Smith. “He’s a big player in big games but the week before Cooper played his best game of the year.
“It was probably an even bigger call to leave out Tyrone McCarthy, who has been in tremendous form since before the Challenge Cup final.
“To leave someone out who is in good form goes again my grain and I’ve got a number of choices to make.
“We’ll look at our opposition and try to pick the team that will most trouble them as well as one that sticks within my parameters of being in form.”
Smith has history of dropping players before big games, having left scrum-half Richie Myler out of his cup final team against Leeds in 2010 despite him having played in three of their previous four rounds.
Myler today described the experience as a “brutal learning curve” and Smith expects at least two of his forwards to go through the same emotions this week.
“It’s horrible at the time,” said Smith. “It’s a difficult one for some people to handle. Their pride gets dented. Some players think it’s their once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and, if they treat it that way, it probably will be.
“Once they understand if they develop a confidence in themselves and play to their ability, they will often get another chance.
“Simon and Mike have played like they don’t want to miss out on this weekend for a while now. They’re grabbing their opportunities.
“It’s my responsibility to make those tough decisions. When players are playing like it’s their last game, it makes it difficult to leave them out.”
Cooper, 24, who is a big Manchester United fan, is desperately hoping to get the nod to play in the biggest match of his career at his beloved Old Trafford.
“It was very disappointing to miss out on Wembley but I learned a lot from that time,” he said. “I put my head down and got some hard work done and you never know, it might pay off at the weekend. If I play, I think it will be my 30th game.”
Leeds coach Brian McDermott’s selection issues are more straightforward.
Half-back Danny McGuire is sure to return after missing last Friday’s 13-12 semi-final win at Wigan Warriors, with Rob Burrow set to switch to hooker and Shaun Lunt dropping to the bench.