Briers hails Smith as Wolves end wait

Warrington 25 Huddersfield 16
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It is a truism of team sports that, to win the big prizes, you need your big players to have big games on the big occasions. That is why Warrington are celebrating their first Challenge Cup for 35 years and why Huddersfield, for the second time in three years, are contemplating their failure to perform.

Michael Monaghan won the Lance Todd Trophy as man of the match, for a lively display, in which he scored one try and provided the pass for two others. He became only the third Australian, after the 80s legends, Brett Kenny and Graham Eadie, to earn that distinction, which he described as "a massive honour''.

It was an honour that could equally well have gone to one of Warrington's own, if Lee Briers can be called that in his 13th season since arriving from St Helens.

Those have been largely seasons of under-achievement for club and player, but the influence of Tony Smith has turned the twilight of an unfulfilled career into a spectacular sunset.

Smith has praised Briers when he has deserved it, criticised him when it has been called for and even dropped him. The result is the more focused and consistent player who contributed heavily to Warrington's success, setting up two tries and controlling the action out wide.

"Tony's the best coach I've worked with by a country mile," Briers said. "He's made me into more of a team player. Maybe it was hard for me to change and it took someone from outside to do it."

The club's captain until he made the decision to stand down, Briers was called up to collect the Cup by his successor and another of Warrington's heroes, Adrian Morley. "Mozz came over and asked if I wanted to lift the Cup with him," he said. "That's the measure of the man."

The other measure of Morley's value to the Wolves was the sheer controlled aggression of his work in the front row, especially in the second half.

He is 32 now, but has found a new lease of life in the last two seasons and would be a logical and popular choice as Man of Steel, the outstanding personality of this one.

Just ask Huddersfield's Eorl Crabtree. He was one of his side's few threats on the day, but had been contained well by a defence led by Morley. Just before he was due to go off for a breather, he was hit by a tackle from the Wolves' captain that literally took his breath away.

It was the sort of moment that inspires one side and deflates the other – and it went a long way to ensuring that there would be no late fight-back from the Giants.

Outside that Big Three, all the selection decisions Smith made came good for him. Tyrone McCarthy, with only two substitute appearances, did nothing wrong; nor did the only slightly more experienced Chris Riley on the wing.

Nor, for that matter, did Mickey Higham, in his first game back after a ruptured bicep, nor Vinnie Anderson, out of position at stand-off, but perfectly competent there and the scorer of a vital try.

It was all a salutary reminder that Smith, however his reputation might have been tarnished by England's World Cup failure, remains the canniest of operators at club level. He showed that at Huddersfield, then at Leeds and now at a sleeping giant on the other side of the Pennines that is suddenly wide awake.

As for his former club, it will be a long time before the Giants get over the disappointment of the way they played at Wembley.

All the consistency they have built up under the coaching of Nathan Brown went. They were anonymous at half-back, even before Kevin Brown went off with a serious knee injury, they were completely out-played at dummy half and their handling among the forwards was nervous and unreliable.

Even their captain and talisman, Brett Hodgson, had his first kick charged down for the opening try and, for all his later efforts, could not lift his team-mates.

He refused to blame the loss of Brown or a couple of debatable decisions. "The only excuse we can offer is that we weren't good enough," he said.

Warrington: Mathers; Hicks, Bridge, King, Riley; V Anderson, Briers; Morley, Monaghan, Carvell, Westwood, L Anderson, Harrison. Substitutes used: Cooper, Higham, Johnson, McCarthy.

Huddersfield: B Hodgson; Cudjoe, Whatuira, Lolesi, D Hodgson; Brown, Robinson; Griffin, Lunt, Mason, Wild, Fulton, Faiumu. Substitutes used: Crabtree, Jackson, Aspinwall, Moore.

Referee: S Ganson (St Helens).

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