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Warrington Wolves boss asks for improvement ahead of Old Trafford return
THE result may have been what he was looking for, but Wolves boss Tony Smith was under no illusions about his side’s performance in their 30-22 play-off semi final victory against Huddersfield Giants.
Wolves will return to Old Trafford for a second consecutive Grand Final but they did it the hard way, showing only glimpses of the play that had seen them comprehensively beat defending champions Leeds a fortnight earlier.
“We were a bit off in some areas and I didn’t think we were composed tonight, or control the game as well as we have done in recent weeks,” said Smith.
“The effort was there but we lacked some composure.
“We have been controlling things pretty well in recent weeks, but tonight wasn’t right.
“Letting balls bounce on the full before going out of touch and offloading in the last couple of minutes.
“Even earlier, our kicking game was poor in the first half and that is not what we’ve been used to.
“We were a bit edgy and tried a bit too hard to get the game put to bed early.”
The hosts may have thought they had put the game to bed when Ryan Atkins leapt to meet Lee Briers’ pinpoint kick to open a 14-point advantage in the second half, following earlier tries from Joel Monaghan, two, and Simon Grix.
But a combination of Huddersfield’s sheer determination and Wolves’ nerves conspired to reduce the home side's lead to just two points with seven minutes remaining, leaving everyone in The Halliwell Jones Stadium on the edge of their seats as the teams battled for the decisive try.
Fortunately it went the way of the home side, with Grix pouncing on the loose ball after Richie Myler’s presence meant Huddersfield allowed Briers’ bomb to bounce awkwardly next to the sticks.
Briers’ boot produced many of the game’s key moments but Smith made it clear that he hopes to see better from his talismanic stand-off when they reach Old Trafford a week on Saturday.
“He copped a bit off me at half time did Lee,” he said.
“He has controlled games much better than that and he put his hand up when he saw me coming over at the break.
“I know next week he will do far better, I think he will be a bit embarrassed about the champagne (for winning Sky’s man-of-the-match award).
“He certainly came up with some big plays and that is what Lee can do any time, but he did not control the game in the way we have been used to him doing recently.”
Another that Smith hopes will improve is Richie Myler, who survived his first full 80 minutes for three months after a recurring medial ligament injury and came up with some telling plays at the right time.
Whether his performance was such that Brett Hodgson - left out of the team at the expense of Myler as Stefan Ratchford retained his place at full back - will miss out in the big one remains to be seen.
“The week before it was down to some injury for Brett, but he was right to play this week and to leave him out was a tough call,” said Smith.
“He is such a champion player and not too many times in his career has he had to have that conversation about not being in the team and he handled it exceptionally well.
“It will be another tough call next week.
“Richie was solid, but it looked like a bit of a rusty performance in some respects.
“He came through it fairly well physically and he will be better for the hit-out.
“He did some good things and some good touches, but he can be a lot stronger in some aspects of his play and he knows that.”
The likely return of Trent Waterhouse will hand Smith further dilemmas as he finalises his Grand Final team, but as is so often said, it is a dilemma every coach wants to have as they fight to end a Championship trophy drought stretching back to 1955.
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