Warrington coach Tony Smith has insisted that the Wolves’ season does not hinge on this Saturday’s Challenge Cup tie with Wigan.
The Wolves’ title challenge looks all-but over by mid-June: instead, they look more likely to be involved in the Qualifiers than the title race following a disastrous first half of the regular season.
That has led some to suggest the loser of tenth-placed Warrington and seventh-placed Wigan this weekend will see their season fizzle out – something Smith firmly disagrees with.
When asked if that was an over-exaggeration, he said: “Yeah, yeah. We’d like to do well in the cup and we want to fight hard in the league and we’re not throwing the towel in with either of those, particularly before a key game that can decide something like that.
“It certainly wouldn’t mean the end of our season; if we get beat this week and don’t perform we totally focus on the league and if we do win, we’ll fight hard to get through the next round of the cup again and it won’t change our focus on the league, either.
“As soon as this is done we’ll be fighting like hell to make a final run for the top eight. It changes nothing either way, win or loss – but it would be nice to win both.”
Smith is also hopeful that the prospect of a local derby televised live on the BBC should bring the best out of his side, who have faltered in recent weeks.
He said: “It’s a great carat and when you draw someone like Wigan, it brings the best out of you hopefully. It was only a matter of a few weeks ago when both teams put on a strong game of rugby league, arguably the pick of the games at Magic Weekend.”
And there is positive news on the injury front, with the Wolves set to welcome back a number of key players for the game.
“The good news is that Ryan Atkins will return, and we’ll give fitness tests to Kurt Gidley and Kevin Brown also,” he said. “There’s some experienced heads returning and in important positions, too.”
Smith has, however, lost Matty Blythe for an extended period with a leg fracture and Matty Russell remains out – but Smith has dropped a strong hint that Stefan Ratchford could return to fullback despite the lack of three-quarters.
He said: “Whilst it’s great he’s got the capability to fill other positions, it takes away something from our game when he’s playing in there. The involvement isn’t up to the levels that we would like Stefan to have.”