I don’t know about you lot, but it feels a bit mad to me that Tony Smith is the longest-serving head coach in Super League. Probably in the entire professional game, though I can’t be arsed looking it up to be exact.
Six years is a very long time to be at a club these days – he’s been here now for longer than he was at Leeds – and in that time he has transformed our beloved Wire from being the also-ran, perennial underachievers to being the team tipped to win everything by the pundits.
Now at his third club in the English game, Smith has made a habit of building a club; instilling a thoroughly professionally, progressive and positive culture wherever he has coached. Who would have thought at the turn of the century that Warrington and Huddersfield would be regulars at the top of the table rather than being the annual basement dwellers both clubs had become by the end of the 90s?
While Leeds always seemingly had everything in place, they just lacked the bottle or belief to go all the way. Smith changed that attitude at Headingley and he’s changed it at Warrington, too.
He took over a squad that had been built by Paul Cullen, but one that the man who gave 25 years of service to the club simply could not turn into a trophy winning side, and within a few months took them to a Challenge Cup victory at Wembley – funnily enough, over Huddersfield. A sign of the change he helped to create.
The following year, after having a full pre-season with his squad, we were Wembley victors again – again against one of his former clubs, Leeds – with a dominant performance at the national stadium. We finished third – our best ever position in the summer era – and although we fell short in the playoffs, the foundations were being built for a bright future.
The 2011 season was, simply, the greatest eight months of viewing pleasure the paying punter has had at Warrington in my lifetime. A team boasting the likes of Briers, Hodgson, both Monaghans, Morley, Westwood, Riley, Bridge and Atkins, there was so much individual talent across the pitch and collectively, they clicked and blew so many teams off the park through sheer force. Going to Headingley and sticking 50 on Leeds in that Camouflage kit shows just how good that team was as it roared to the league leaders’ shield.
There is no doubt that Smith has developed the club in his mould in his six years; the development of the training ground at Padgate Campus and the number of young players coming through highlight that Smith isn’t just interested in the here and now, but in leaving a lasting legacy at clubs he touches.
The big fear for me is that, like I said, six years is a very long time to be at one club these days. There is not – and there never will be, most likely – any danger of him being shown the door, but a coach with a CV as impressive as Smith must surely have ambitions of proving himself back in his homeland in the NRL. The successes of Mike McGuire and Trent Robinson with the Rabbitohs and Roosters after their much shorter stints in the Super League must be an inspiration for Smith. It can’t be denied that he has earned an opportunity to coach at the highest level.
Hopefully, though, he wants to stay at Warrington for a lot longer and finish the job he has started and win at least one Super League trophy.
Sunday saw the return of a local lad handed his super league debut by Smith. Tyrone McCarthy first pulled on the jersey of his hometown club in 2009 and six weeks later was starting at Wembley – an incredible display of faith from Smith in the 20 year old back rower.
Tyke scored against Leeds in 2012 and the picture of him celebrating having crashed over the line adorns the heritage timeline on the wall of the concourse on the South Stand – alongside the likes of Alfie Langer, Lee Briers, Harry Bath and Brian Bevan. That’s some company to be keeping.
After taking the brave decision to leave home and move to Australia in order to get more game time, he has returned to Super League to help bolster the Rovers’ pack following a successful season with Northern Pride.
He was given a warm welcome from the South Stand, which was nice, and a warmer welcome from Ashton Sims when the pair squared up in the first half.
We can’t deny that we genuinely love Tyke. You won’t find him on the Goldthrope list in League Express but he is the type of player that every single team needs and we feel that our pack was probably weaker last year without him in parts. His work rate and aggression would be welcomed by clubs in the League. He does the little things that all too often go unnoticed, but are vital to any successful team. How many people will go toe-to-toe with Ashton Sims this year the way he did? Fair play to the lad.
Hull KR generally look a different from the one that we bummed in Pre-Season. After running Leeds close on the opening weekend of the season and beating the crust munchers last week, they have shown they are capable of holding their own against the top sides in the competition.
For the third week running, Warrington have come up against a genuinely top class half back in Terry Campese, who ran the show for Rovers.
The nephew of the former Australian Rugby Union international David Campese – and best mate of our skipper – he had spent a decade in the number six jersey at Canberra and his experience showed when he ripped our defence apart time and again throughout the afternoon.
Twice in the first half, he attracted defenders to him before slipping a neat ball behind a lead runner to exploit the overlap and create a couple of tries. In the second half, the threat of him slipping the ball out the back again kept the Wire defence in two minds and he dropped the shoulder to break through and slip an offload to Graeme Horne who crashed over. He didn’t deserve to be on the losing side.
Meanwhile, we welcomed back our creative spark when Stefan Ratchford Baby made a triumphant return from injury. Matty Russell was named as man of the match by the sponsors, presumably his mam, but anyone with a functioning pair of eyes could see that Stef was the main influence in everything that we did well.
After a fortnight of Kevin Penny’s enthusiastic running into brick walls from fullback, Ratchford’s display highlighted the role of the position in the modern game perfectly. He has the squad number six and he practically plays as a second stand off: He joins the attacking line deep and wide and makes things happen against an up-rushing defence.
For our first ty, it was a cut out pass to find Russell in space on the wing. For our second, from a similar position on the other side of the pitch, it was a perfectly timed short ball to Joel Monas to allow the captain to stroll in.
He had a hand in everything positive we did and was involved in the play that lead to Ben Currie’s try that finally killed off Rovers’ spirited fight near the end and put the game to bed.
It was probably a tad cruel on the Robins, who battled hard all game and did the basics well. Their pack graft all day long and both their half backs have a decent kicking game, but like the Salford game, we just seemed to have that little bit of individual quality that can see us strike from range despite not bossing the possession or set completion statistics – another hallmark of the Smith reign.
They sit bottom of the table early on, but on that display, they could be in with a real shout of sneaking in the top 8. Their fans – who must have set a record for taking the longest time ever to sing ‘Wanky Warrington’ when the chorus rang out for the first time just before half-time – were rightly appreciative and to a man, they all stayed behind to give the side a deserved ovation.
Leeds, who looked shit hot in the second half against Hull last week, visit the HJ on Friday in what has become one of the premier fixtures of the season these days. It should be another cracker.