Big things are expected from loan signing Lee Smith when he makes his Wakefield Trinity Wildcats debut at home to Wigan Warriors on Sunday.
Boss Richard Agar plans to throw Smith straight in at the deep end, just three days after he joined Wildcats from Leeds Rhinos on an initial one-month deal.
Smith is a England international who has won three Grand Final rings with Leeds, in three different positions and scoring a try on each occasion, but he has been unable to nail down a regular place in Rhinos’ side this year.
With Wildcats’ two first-choice centres both on the casualty list, Agar reckons he has brought in an ideal replacement.
“He is a quality player,” said the Wakefield boss. “Dean Collis is out with a fractured shoulder and Vince Mellars has a detached retina which needs surgery pretty much straight away. He will be out for two months, so we’ve lost both our centres and that’s a fair chunk out of our team.
“Lee hasn’t been getting the amount of football he wants and a player of his calibre is too good not to be playing week in and week out in Super League, so if it’s not at Leeds we are in a position where we can offer him a crack with us.
“We aren’t flushed with too many outside-backs and Lee’s a quality player. I would like to think in the month that he’s here – and we are not ruling out it being longer – we can make a good impression on him.
“He is also a quality full-back and winger, but our needs at the moment are very much in the centre.
“He’ll take Vinny’s spot this week and we’ll play him outside of Ali Lauitiiti, who he is familiar with from Leeds. He’s had a short lead in to the game, so a bit of familiarity around him should help him out a bit.”
It will be a baptism of fire against a table-topping Wigan side who coming off the back of a shock defeat at home to Bradford Bulls.
“You can imagine Shaun [Wane, Wigan’s coach] will have been putting them through it this week,” Agar observed. “They’ve got a Challenge Cup semi-final on the horizon as well so there are going to be spots up for grabs for that.,
“On any given day they are probably the biggest challenge in the game. You know what’s coming sometimes, but knowing what’s coming and stopping it is too different things. And if you throw their full-back Sam Tomkins into it as well, he is probably the best talent we’ve got in the game.”
Lee Smith’s inclusion in place of Mellars is the only likely change to the Wakefield team which lost at Catalan last week.
Matt James and Lucas Walshaw – who were 18th and 19th men last week – remain on stand-by in the initial squad.
Wigan will give a debut to half-back Matt Smith, who joined them from Salford City Reds yesterday.
Sam Tomkins, Harrison Hansen, Chris Tuson, Tom Spencer and ex-Leeds Carnegie rugby union player Iain Thornley are all in contention to feature tomorrow, with Josh Charnley – hurt playing for England on Wednesday – dropping out from the side beaten by Bradford, along with Michael McIlorum, Jack Hughes and Rhodri Lloyd.
Wakefield Trinity Wildcats from: Mathers, Fox, Sykes, L Smith, Cockayne, John, T Smith, Raleigh, Aiton, Amor, Kirmond, Lauitiiti, Washbrook, Wood, Wilkes, Johnson, Trout, James, Walshaw.
Wigan Warriors from: S Tomkins, Goulding, Carmont, Finch, Mossop, Hansen, Hock, O’Loughlin, Farrell, Tuson, Lauaki, Flower, Gelling, L Tomkins, Spencer, Crosby, Murphy, Thornley, M Smith.
Referee: Thierry Alibert (Toulouse).
Kick-off: July 8, 3.30pm.