Former Leeds coach Tony Smith is delighted to see his old club miss out on a place at Old Trafford this year but not because they dashed the Grand Final dream of his Warrington team 12 months ago.
It was Smith who sparked the Super League glory years for the Rhinos, guiding them to victory at Old Trafford in his first season in 2004 and again in his last three years later.
The two Brians, McClennan and McDermott, then continued the success with two Grand Final triumphs apiece, but Leeds’s run came to an end this year when they suffered play-off defeats at the hands of both Warrington and Wigan, who will meet in Super League’s showpiece final for the first time tonight.
Smith, the former England and Great Britain boss who has equalled Brian Noble’s coaching record of five Grand Finals, believes it is the match-up most neutrals would have plumped for at the start of the season.
“I think the Wigan-Warrington games this season have been up there among the best I have seen in terms of quality and intensity,” Smith said.
“For the last few years we have been very evenly matched and put in some cracking games together. Hopefully that can be the same on Saturday.
“It is really important that it is a good advert for our sport. It is on a great stage. Whilst both of us have had a little bit of experience there in recent times, I think it is good that there is a bit of a freshness about it.
“No disrespect to Leeds, but the freshness of two new clubs coming together in terms of Grand Finals is a good thing.
“It’s nice to have a couple of different teams there after Leeds’s domination for so many years.”
While Wigan will have the benefit of having experienced victory at Old Trafford three years ago, Smith is hoping his players can learn the lessons from last season’s defeat by Leeds.
“I’m very proud of last year,” he said. “We weren’t far off.
“It was pretty level pegging until about 60 minutes but Kevin Sinfield’s kicking game was a little bit superior to ours.
“Some players may use it as motivation. I think the experience will be a good thing, having handled the occasion, the build-up, atmosphere and conditions.
“That will help us but experience alone isn’t enough. You need to be able to go out there, hold your nerve, execute and put your opponents under pressure.”
Wigan will be aiming to succeed where Warrington failed 12 months ago by becoming only the third club to complete a Super League and Challenge Cup double, following in the footsteps of St Helens (1996, 2006) and Bradford (2003).