THERE are semi-finals and finals on the fixture list this weekend, but Australian veteran coach Brian Smith has no doubt where the main action will be.
Just four months after arriving at Belle Vue, Smith is preparing to take charge of Wakefield Trinity Wildcats’ most important game since 2006, which was the last time their Super League status was on the line.
Wakefield face Bradford Bulls on Saturday in the million pound match, a one-off shootout between the teams finishing fourth and fifth in the Qualifiers.
The winning team will play in Super League next year and Smith insists it is an occasion and challenge to savour, rather than fear.
Jokingly accusing his chairman Michael Carter of lacking a “sense of adventure” over his reluctance to be involved in such a crucial fixture, Smith insisted: “It is the most important game on this weekend, that’s for sure.
“It should be a cracking game. It is exciting to be part of something where everything is on the line.
“It’s an incredible feeling knowing it is all on the line and everything comes down to this game.
“The game is going to be a beauty and it will capture people’s imaginations. Certainly the two clubs involved are going to buy into it big time.”
Smith first made his name as coach of Hull from 1988-91, guiding them to a Premiership title in the 1990-91 season. He was also responsible for reviving Bradford’s fortunes at the start of the summer era and has coached teams to four separate Grand Finals in Australia’s NRL.
The 61-year-old admitted to feeling “heaps” of pressure as the game which will decide the club’s future looms. But he said: “I have been dealing with that for a long time, so I hope I can deal with it for a few more days.
“I think there’s different situations throughout your career, for young players and young coaches compared to older players and old coaches. You learn to adapt to pressured situations.
“It is interesting to see that back home in the NRL their Grand Final has got the most decorated and the oldest coach in the game (Brisbane Broncos’ Wayne Bennett) against (North Queensland’s) Paul Green, who is at the beginning of his career. You can draw some comparisons here, between me and (Bradford coach) Jimmy (Lowes).”
Lowes – who Smith took from Leeds to Bradford as a player two decades ago – is one win away from steering the Odsal club back into the top flight at the first attempt following relegation last year.
He does not believe all the pressure will be on the opposition this weekend. Lowes said: “It will be a great occasion and generally I think everybody is looking forward to it immensely.
“I don’t think Wakefield are under more pressure as the Super League team. You put pressure on yourselves to perform to the max, to get things right, whether that’s as a player or a coach. I don’t think there’s any more pressure on either side.”
Trinity captain Danny Kirmond is expected to feature on Saturday after making his comeback from a shoulder injury in last Sunday’s defeat at Sheffield Eagles.
Smith said: “He did pretty well. We had a plan for him to play between 50 and 60 minutes, but that went out the window when Scott Anderson went down in the third minute.
“We had to make a bit of an adjustment there and we thought about taking him off for the last 15, but he kept playing pretty much solidly.
“So that was a bit of a bonus for us, to get him back and to get a really good, hard hit-out for him under match conditions. It puts him in a good place for this week.”
Anderson, Wakefield’s Australian front-rower, suffered a medial knee ligament injury and is unlikely to be available for the million pound game. Smith said: “I don’t think he has even gone for a scan, I think he has been written-off at this stage. We will see where he’s at later in the week.
“If there’s some sort of chance he can play we’d obviously welcome him back, but I think that would be most unusual for a medial ligament injury. You are usually taking weeks or months, rather than a few days.”
Wakefield have released full-back Kevin Locke, who joined them in June from Salford Red Devils, but has been suspended since a road traffic incident the day after last month’s home loss to Widnes Vikings.
Carter said: “He wouldn’t have played for us again anyway, because he picked up a shoulder injury against Widnes.
“We have reached a termination agreement and shaken hands and wished him all the best for the future.”
Scrum-half Tim Smith, who was due in court today over the same incident, remains suspended and will not be selected for Saturday.