Grand Final will excite neutrals - Smith
Former Leeds Rhinos coach Tony Smith is delighted to see his old club miss out on a place at Old Trafford this year but not because they dashed the Grand Final dream of his Warrington Wolves team 12 months ago.
It was Smith who sparked the Super League glory years for the Rhinos, guiding them to victory at Old Trafford in his first season in 2004 and again in his last three years later.
The two Brians, McClennan and McDermott, then continued the success with two Grand Final triumphs apiece, but Leeds' run came to an end this year when they suffered play-off defeats at the hands of both Warrington and Wigan Warriors, who will meet in Super League's showpiece final for the first time tomorrow.
Smith, the former England and Great Britain boss who has equalled Brian Noble's coaching record of five Grand Finals, believes it is the match-up most neutrals would have plumped for at the start of the season.
"I think the Wigan-Warrington games this season have been up there among the best I have seen in terms of quality and intensity," Smith said.
"For the last few years we have been very evenly matched and put in some cracking games together. Hopefully that can be the same on Saturday.
"It is really important that it is a good advert for our sport. It is on a great stage. Whilst both of us have had a little bit of experience there in recent times, I think it is good that there is a bit of a freshness about it.
"No disrespect to Leeds, but the freshness of two new clubs coming together in terms of Grand Finals is a good thing.
"It's nice to have a couple of different teams there after Leeds' domination for so many years."
While Wigan will have the benefit of having experienced victory at Old Trafford three years ago, Smith is hoping his players can learn the lessons from last season's defeat by Leeds.
"I'm very proud of last year," he said. "We weren't far off.
"It was pretty level pegging until about 60 minutes but Kevin Sinfield's kicking game was a little bit superior to ours. Throughout the game that probably took its toll on us.
"Some players may use it as motivation. I think the experience will be a good thing, having handled the occasion, the build-up, atmosphere and conditions.
"That will help us but experience alone isn't enough. You need to be able to go out there, hold your nerve, execute and put your opponents under pressure. If you can do that that gives you the best chance of winning."
Wigan will be aiming to succeed where Warrington failed 12 months ago by becoming only the third club to complete a Super League and Challenge Cup double, following in the footsteps of St Helens (1996, 2006) and Bradford Bulls (2003).
With victory, Warrington would pick up the league title for the first time since 1955, when they beat Oldham 7-3 in the Championship final at neighbouring Maine Road.
"It's been a few years between drinks," Smith added. "We have had some success in the Challenge Cup and it'd be nice to do it in the championship."
Officials are expecting Saturday's crowd to exceed last year's total of 70,676 for what promises to be a poignant occasion.
Warrington's players will wear black armbands as a mark of respect for the club's last championship-winning captain Albert Naughton, who passed away last week.
And the game will also bring back memories for both sets of fans of Wigan-born Mike Gregory, who was the Warrington captain when the sides met in the Challenge Cup final in 1990.
Gregory, who was typically brave in a 36-14 defeat at Wembley, went on to achieve his dream of coaching his home-town club, only to collapse on the way to the 2003 Grand Final.
It was the first hint of the progressive muscular atrophy, a form of motor neuron disease, that would end his life in November 2007 at the age of 43.