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Warrington Wolves have one eye on play-offs ahead of Widnes clash
TONY Smith has one eye on Wolves’ push towards Grand Final glory as he prepares to make changes to the team that demolished Huddersfield for his side’s ‘derby’ clash with Widnes Vikings on Sunday, kick off 3pm.
With second place secured and with a tough play-off opener against either Catalan Dragons or bitter rivals St Helens to come the following week, Smith is likely to make wholesale changes for Wolves’ final game of the regular season in order to keep his players as fresh as possible for the final push towards Old Trafford.
Both Lee Briers and Chris Riley were rested for the visit of Huddersfield and Smith admitted that there may be several others still to be shuffled around as he continues the rotation policy that has kept his side largely injury-free for the majority of the season.
“There will be changes again from the weekend, but we will be putting out a team strong enough to enjoy a good challenge against Widnes,” he said.
“Possibly Brett Hodgson will be one of the ones who could be rested, we will see how his body is later in the week.”
Medial ligament damage sustained by Ben Westwood in the Challenge Cup final was always likely to keep the tireless second rower out of action for the remainder of the regular season, but Smith admitted that the 31-year-old is facing a race to be fit for the knockout stages too.
The same goes for centre Chris Bridge , who despite scoring a try in Wolves’ 54-6 romp against Huddersfield last week, is facing missing the play-offs due to the tendinitis that will require the 28-year-old having surgery in the off-season.
“Ben Westwood is going to be a little while yet. We will assess him and see how his knees respond to treatment, but only if he is fit enough will he play,” said Smith.
“We are hoping that Bridge will be able to play a part too.
“We will monitor his training and his game time and he has said that the operation he needs can wait until the off season.
“He has given himself every chance to play a part, but like everyone else it will depend on his form.”
Wolves’ record against Widnes this season indicates that changes to their main personnel would not be too harmful for their chances at the Stobart Stadium on Sunday, having scored 114 points across the two matches already played against the Super League new boys this term.
But with an improving Widnes side picking up wins against Hull FC, Salford and Huddersfield in the latter half of the season, Smith believes they have finally started to acclimatise to life in rugby league’s top tier and will pose a trickier opposition than when slumping to a 68-4 defeat at the Etihad Stadium in May.
“Once they have gone through enough games, got used to the speed of the matches and used to the players around them then they were always likely to come good,” Smith said.
“They are a different team now, but we would like to think that we have improved as well since then, so it should be a good local derby.”