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Warrington Wolves ready for physical cup tie against Bradford Bulls
WOLVES feel that rebuffing Bradford’s juggernaut pack and cashing in on form centres is the route to the quarter finals of the Carnegie Challenge Cup for a fourth successive year.
Tony Smith admits to some ‘hard decisions’ with his team selection in pursuit of that goal but is buoyed to be going into the Halliwell Jones Stadium tie against a galvanised and strengthened Bulls outfit on the back of the highest win of the season against Castleford Tigers.
And, wary of the challenge that awaits on Saturday, kick off 2.40pm, Smith has led calls this week for the fans to turn out in numbers – rather than watching on television – to help lift the players in taking a step towards a Wembley return and those wonderful cup glories of 2009 and 2010.
“Bradford are a tough team in the physical respect,” said Smith, whose team was pushed to the wire by a low key Bulls side in the 2010 quarter final at Odsal and one that is now desperate to earn its financially stricken club a big pot of money from a cup run.
“They have some good young forwards, some willing forwards, and some capable backs as well.
“We’ve already experienced some of that this year when they gave us a bit of a tough time at their ground.
“They’ll be very spirited. They’ve had their off-field dramas and I’m sure that’s galvanised the players to pull together.
“They had a little patch where they were struggling and since then they’ve been quite a formidable team, not necessarily winning each game but they make it hard for every team that they play.
“We’ll certainly have to be on our game to play well against them.”
Wolves’ players have likened Bradford’s forward style to that of Catalan Dragons – the last team to beat Warrington on Easter Monday – in that they have big blokes trying to blast holes down the middle as they attempt to achieve fast play-the-balls.
For the powerhouse battle, Smith has his England front rowers Garreth Carvell and skipper Adrian Morley available to him against the menace offered by the likes of international pack men Olivier Elima, Manase Manuokafoa and Craig Kopczak.
Carvell has finished a two-match ban, while Morley has sat out the last two games with some ‘neck stiffness’ but is available if needed.
That leaves Smith with a dilemma.
Both men, like the majority of their teammates, had lost some form but during their absence Wolves’ players have benefited from a simplified game plan that has allowed recent starting props Paul Wood and Chris Hill, along with subs Mike Cooper and Ben Harrison, to lay a successful platform for Lee Briers and Gareth O’Brien to work some magic with the three-quarter line.
“I’ve got a couple of things to consider but they’re good considerations,” said Smith, who revealed Michael Monaghan is also close to a return after soreness in his knees but his comeback is more likely to occur next weekend in Super League at home to Salford.
Smith may decide to muscle up and elect for experience over youth against a Bradford side expected to recall speedy back Brett Kearney and hooker Heath L’Estrange.
He afforded Simon Grix time at scrum half in the second half against Castleford, and playing him alongside Lee Briers would allow for the continuation of Tyrone McCarthy or a third prop at loose forward.
On the edges, England centres Chris Bridge and Ryan Atkins are looking sharp and ready to capitalise on winning the forward battle.
Smith said: “Ryan came through against Castleford with flying colours and did a couple of really spectacular things which was good for a first game back. And Bridgey showed some glimpses of good stuff as well, particularly in the first half.
“When you’ve got two good centres like that they can create some things for the people around them and that was good for us at the weekend.”
With some improved form and an expectant home crowd behind them, Wolves hope they have all the ingredients to keep alive their dreams of a league and cup double this year.
Smith said: “The cup competition holds a special place in the hearts of many coaches, players and supporters.
“It is all down to your performance on the day in this knockout competition so the players need your support more than ever on Saturday afternoon.
“Running out to a full home crowd of primrose and blue really does lift their spirits."