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Smith Coaching Comeback Against The Team He Built
Posted by southstander on March 06 2009 - 10:13:59

by Guest Writer

So, Tony Smith is back in club football with his appointment at the Warrington Wolves as Head of Rugby and Coaching. Smith of course guided the Rhinos to three Grand Finals and a Challenge Cup Final in his time at Headingley Carnegie.

We take a look at the appointment in a little more detail....

I for one can't see all the fuss about Smith's appointment at Warrington. It's not like he's walking into a club where everything is set in place. At Leeds in 2004 he inherited a team that was on the brink of great things. They were only denied a second Grand Final appearance by that late Danny Tickle field goal in the Final Eliminator and the seeds had been sown under the leadership of Darryl Powell. Darryl took a lot of stick, but he gave the likes of Burrow, McGuire, Calderwood and Chev Walker a regular run in the First Grade and although it led to a couple of barren years, Challenge Cup Final apart in 2003, it laid a platform.

Smith then, came into Headingley after dragging the Huddersfield Giants up from their knees. After a first season which saw relegation, he led the club back to Super League after an undefeated season in what proved to be the last NFP season before steadying the ship and keeping the Giants in the top flight. When he was announced as Leeds coach mid-way through 2003 Smith was only contracted to keep the seat warm for 2 years, with Powell returning to the coaching job for the start of 2006.

At Leeds, there was only one player added to the 2003 squad in Marcus Bai and had old heads like Matt Adamson and David Furner to guide his younger charges. Smith provided the squad with the realisation that they could be champions and Leeds wrapped up their only Minor Premiership so far, dropping only 6 points all season. A wobble in the Qualifier, before a convinving victory over Wigan saw the Rhinos at Old Trafford and end 32 years of hurt. He'd been very much the tinkerman in that first season, changing the team every week, here and there. The decision the leave Matt Adamson out after the loss to Bradford in the qualifier was met with derision from some quarters in the South Stand but it proved to be the correct decision as the same side came up with the goods and the Super League Trophy.

2005 didn't go to plan, although the World Club Challenge was bagged with a victory over Canterbury at Elland Road the Rhinos reached both major finals but defeats to Hull in Cardiff and Bradford at Old Trafford, coupled with a second place finish to St Helens in the league ladder meant the Rhinos ended up with no domestic honours. The trip to Perpignan to take on London seemed to be the defining moment in the season, defeat in the South of France seen to tip the Rhinos over the rails and they never seemed to be the same team after that with rumours of a split in the camp and player unrest. Smith though, was given an extended contract at Headingley and the return of Powell was never on.

2006 saw Danny Ward sacked before a ball was kicked, Richard Mathers announced he was off to the Gold Coast before a season ending injury stopped his Leeds career in its tracks. 2006 could only be described as a disappointment. A shock defeat to Huddersfield in the Challenge Cup Semi Final before being dumped out of the play-off series by Warrington at Headingley Carnegie saw the Rhinos trophy cabinet empty again.

What was going to happen in 2007, nobody knew. The team started on fire, playing a great brand of attacking football and entertaining the huge crowds which now came to Headingley Carnegie every week. An early exit in the Challenge Cup to Wigan was disappointing, but crucially it left the team with one goal and a few crucial weeks off in the season. Smith had St Helens number that season, in four second half periods that season, they scored only 2 points against the Rhinos but Leeds still finished second after a debateable run in June and July when Leeds lost 3 out of 4 games they needed two goes to get to Old Trafford before demolishing Saints to win the big prize.

During that year it was announced that Tony was to leave Headingley Carnegie to take over the national team job, the first series went to plan. A 3-0 victory over a weakened Kiwi side gave everyone false hope for the World Cup and when it came to the crunch down in Australia England simply weren't up to the job. Despite beating Papua New Guinea in the opening game England went down to consecutive defeats to Australia and New Zealand (twice) to send them home empty handed. Whilst doing this, Smith also became a British citizen.

Smith indicated a desire to return to the day to day scheme of club coaching at the end of his contract with the RFL and now the life line has been offered by the Wolves. It's a lot different for him at Warrington this time, he takes over a team of real under achievers. You can't deny me that comment. With the squad Warrington have built up over the last couple of years they should have been challenging for honours but their seasons have always seemed to crumble away, with the notable exception of 2006 when they beat the Rhinos in the play offs at Headingley Carnegie. Smith inherits a squad with talents like Briers, Monaghan, King, Higham, Clarke and Morley but they needs to find that next level if they are to bring any silverware to the Halliwell Jones Stadium. At Leeds, Smith walked into the club with the team on the brink of great things. At Warrington it's going to be a long haul and Smith will have to take the Wolves through a big restructure in order to get things running the way he wants and likes things to run.

I'd like to wish Tony all the best in his new role, I just hope it doesn't get off to a good start on Sunday.



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