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Warrington Wolves' trip to France 'the most important game of year' says Tony Smith
SATURDAY’S clash with Catalan Dragons is Warrington Wolves’ most important game of the season so far, believes head of coaching and rugby Tony Smith.
With second place safely secured and with no hope of catching Huddersfield Giants, the trip to France could be considered something of a dead rubber.
But Smith, no stranger to preparing teams for a successful Grand Final assault, knows better than to be so flippant ahead of his side’s final league match before a play-off opener against either Wigan or Leeds on Saturday, September 14.
“Saturday is the most important game of our season so far,” he said. “For the players, if they don’t perform well they might miss out the following week and they don’t want to be doing that at this stage of the year.
“In terms of the team, you want to be building your best performances now. We want to go over there and get some momentum going before heading into the finals and though we were pretty pleased with our last performance, we want to do better again.
“With all that taken into account, it is the most important game of our season so far.”
And not just for the team as a whole.
Returning players Brett Hodgson (concussion) and Ryan Atkins (ankle) will be hoping to make their mark on a game that will not see too many changes to the 17-man squad that earned a 29-16 win in St Helens, with the spotlight on Atkins in particular after his substantial two-month lay-off.
“It is good that Ryan gets that chance,” said Smith.
“Useful that he has a chance to play himself into even better form before the finals.
“I have been asked whether we are resting or rotating players at the moment, not at all.
“All the players have been rested recently.
“Even in terms of bumps and bruises, we’re not far off and there is only Richie Myler missing for us this week.”
Myler, absent with medial knee ligament damage, faces a make-or-break meeting with a consultant next Friday which may well determine whether the scrum half will be in contention for a late return, but Smith is otherwise blessed with a squad that seems to have shaken off any other injury concerns at just the right time.
Wolves’ Super League record away to Catalan – one win in three trips – reveals just how difficult it can be to face the Dragons in their own back yard, but it will certainly be the hard-fought game that Smith desires before knockout rugby begins in earnest next week.
“Dragons are a good opponent to face before a play-off series, really, as they do not die wondering,” he said.
“They will ask some questions of you and they are not afraid to throw the ball around, so our defence will have to be good.”
Wolves fly out to Perpignan tomorrow, Friday, and return on Sunday.
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