Smith aiming to shake off family duck with maiden victory

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Tony Smith must make some of the most important selection decisions of his coaching career today if Leeds are to win their first Super League Grand Final.

Tony Smith must make some of the most important selection decisions of his coaching career today if Leeds are to win their first Super League Grand Final.

The Rhinos' mentor will not name his team to face Bradford until an hour before kick-off at Old Trafford and, for once, there are genuine issues to ponder.

Does he risk Mark Calderwood and his defensive frailties on the wing against the destructive power of Lesley Vainikolo? If not, how does he shuffle his side without weakening it in other areas?

Does he bring back Andrew Dunemann after injury? If so, who drops out of the pack when Kevin Sinfield moves to loose forward? And is the extra size of Wayne McDonald a strong enough recommendation against the Bulls?

After the impressive victory over Wigan last Friday, Smith predicted that there would be changes today; it might have taken most of the week to decide which ones.

Partly because of the size of their squad, Leeds almost have a tradition of notable omissions from big matches - it was Sinfield from one Challenge Cup final, Danny McGuire from another - and there are going to be players equally disappointed today.

For what it is worth, one theory is that the best defensive winger in the world is not going to stop Vainikolo in full flight, one-on-one, so you might be just as well going for the one who presents the greatest attacking threat.

Brian Noble's one selection dilemma is unlikely to lead him into any such philosophical debate. If Leon Pryce's shoulder is half as bad as it is supposed to be, the Bulls will use Paul Johnson as his replacement in the centres and must then choose between Jamie Langley and Paul Anderson to come on to the bench.

Bradford's great advantage is that most of their players have already played in a couple of Grand Finals and, as their captain, Robbie Paul, put it this week: "We'll be a bit more chilled out."

They also had a convincing play-off victory over Leeds two weeks ago, although that was a game in which the Rhinos made 19 breaks - more than enough to clinch the match if their finishing had been up to scratch.

They also picked a team designed to contain Bradford that day and failed to do so - another reason why they might look to the bolder options today.

Leeds know that they will not shake off the tag of chokers until they can win a match like this. It is also a reputation that attaches itself like a leech to the Smith family.

Tony's elder brother, Brian, has built up clubs on both sides of the world - including Bradford - but has never won a Grand Final. He will be lending long-distance support today as the family tries to break its duck. "He cares a lot for Brian Noble and his old club," Tony said. "But blood is thicker than water."

* Old Trafford, which is sold out for the second Grand Final in succession, has agreed a new contract to stage the event for the next four years.

Comments