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Injuries to Warrington Wolves' Stefan Ratchford 'not as bad as first feared'
WOLVES boss Tony Smith believes his side have been saving their best form for the play-offs, starting with the qualifying fixture against bitter rivals St Helens at the Halliwell Jones Stadium on Saturday, kick off 6pm.
Smith, who masterminded two Grand Final wins at Leeds in 2004 and 2007, has been seeing signs that Wolves’ players are better prepared than ever to mount an assault for the club’s first ever trip to Old Trafford.
“I get the feeling that this is what they have waited for and they have had these games in the back of their minds for a while,” he said.
“It is a long season, but if you as you get closer to the finals you start getting a bit more excited about it and they are ready to rip into this play-off series.
“We will be sharper, our defence will be tighter and our kicking game will be better than we have seen this season, and I just think are ready to go up a peg or two.”
Only packmen Ben Westwood and Ben Harrison are ruled out of Wolves’ meeting with Saints, with the medial ligament injury Westwood suffered during the Challenge Cup final looking likely to keep the 31-year-old out of action until next week at the earliest.
The loss of Wolves’ tireless back rower, who was named in the Super League Dream team for the third consecutive year earlier this week, is a blow for Warrington as they look to end a barren play-off record of seven defeats from nine play-off matches in the Super League era.
Knee and ligament damage sustained during Wolves’ 52-14 victory against Widnes on Sunday had also put Ratchford and Ben Harrison ’s availability in doubt for Warrington’s opening play-off fixture, but scans performed on Tuesday indicate Ratchford's injury was not serious enough to keep him out of Saturday's 19-man squad.
“They are in much better than shape than we first feared and Stefan is looking pretty positive,” said Wolves’ head of coaching and rugby.
Saints are no strangers to Super League’s end of year knockout structure – having played a part in the last six Grand Finals – and though Mike Rush’s squad finished five points behind Wolves in third, Smith believes that their past experiences may just give them the edge on Saturday.
“Maybe they are at an advantage,” he said.
“But my team are shaping up well, our form has been good recently, and we are ready for what is likely to be a fierce battle.”