Smith goes for grit in midfield after rivals catch up with Myler

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The Independent Online

You only had to look at Richie Myler, trying hard to stay cheerful at the Wembley walkabout yesterday, to know that the overnight rumours were true and that the scrum-half had been left out of Warrington's Challenge Cup final side.

The game's most expensive teenager was the man to miss out when Tony Smith named a team containing his two specialist hookers, Jon Clarke and Micky Higham, plus last year's man of the match, Michael Monaghan, who has played there most of the season.

"It's not an easy job and it's not a pleasurable job," said Smith of telling Myler the bad news. "He's had a terrific year and has been very good for us, but he handled it with a lot of maturity. He was gutted, but he's pushed past it and he will have a lot of big games in the future."

This decision is a big call from Smith and it means that he is voluntarily depriving himself of real pace in midfield; the others have much to offer, but they don't have that.

Perhaps the writing was on the wall for Myler at the semi-final stage, when he was shunted to the bench and played only a peripheral role in the defeat of the Catalan Dragons. "Teams have been targeting him," Smith said then and he said it again yesterday. The outcome is that he has gone for grit and durability.

Clarke and Higham have returned triumphantly from injuries recently: Clarke missed last year's final with a broken ankle, while Higham was a surprise late inclusion after a torn biceps. One player's heartbreak is always another's opportunity.

Danny McGuire knows what it is like to be left out of a Cup final side, having been omitted by Leeds in 2003 after virtually winning the semi-final for them. He overcame that bitter disappointment to become a fixture in the side and now, at 27, he is something of an elder statesman of half-back play, alongside such precocious talents as Sam Tomkins, Kyle Eastmond and Myler, whose absence today deprives McGuire of the chance to make a point. "I lost my England place in the Four Nations and I'd like to think I could rise to the challenge of winning it back," he said.

McGuire has never been in better form. Age and experience have enabled him to read his moment to strike better than ever, while he has lost none of his old pace. His coach, Brian McClennan, has described him as the best he has ever seen at timing his support run – and that is the sort of thing that has won plenty of Cup finals.

McClennan, as is his wont, is guarding his cards much more closely than Smith. That means we will not know for certain who will be on the right wing until an hour before kick-off, although the body language yesterday suggested it will be Lee Smith rather than Scott Donald.

That leaves the issue of which forward will miss out. Through the week, that has seemed to be between Greg Eastwood and Ian Kirke, but the whisper from the Leeds camp yesterday was that Ali Lauitiiti could be struggling with injury.

One theory that McClennan did rule out was that the famously tough Jamie Peacock might make a miracle recovery from his busted knee and play. Peacock has travelled and was walking without sticks yesterday, but even he cannot play a Challenge Cup final on one knee.

That leaves Leeds looking a fraction light up front, but both sides, in their subtly different ways, have so much attacking ambition that it is almost impossible to imagine it being a dull final.

It is fitting that the Rugby League should this week be commemorating the Wigan-Hull final 25 years ago that many still consider to be the best that Wembley has ever seen. Not often since that spectacular in 1985 has a final been anticipated as keenly as this. If it is merely a good final, the code will be disappointed.

Buderus, for one, is braced for a bruising day. "I'd really love to win this one," said Leeds' hooker. "It would be a dream but the reality is, it's going to be a tough, tough gig."

Probable line-ups

Leeds / Warrington

Brent Webb 1 Richard Mathers

Lee Smith 2 Chris Hicks

Brett Delaney 3 Matt King

Keith Senior 4 Ryan Atkins

Ryan Hall 5 Chris Riley

Danny McGuire 6 Lee Briers

Rob Burrow 7 M Monaghan

Kylie Leuluai 8 Adrian Morley (c)

Danny Buderus 9 Jon Clarke

Ryan Bailey 10 Garreth Carvell

J Jones-Buchanan 11 Louis Anderson

Carl Ablett 12 Ben Westwood

Kevin Sinfield (c) 13 Ben Harrison

Leeds substitutes M Diskin, I Kirke, G Eastwood, C Clarkson

Warrington substitutes M Higham, V Anderson, P Wood, D Solomona

Referee Richard Silverwood (Mirfield)

TV: BBC 1, kick-off 2.30pm.

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