WARRINGTON coach Tony Smith insists his team are not “losing any sleep” over the return of Ben Flower, admitting they will be more concerned if his Wigan captain Sean O’Loughlin runs out at the DW Stadium.
The build-up to Thursday night’s Super League derby has been dominated by the comeback of Wales prop Flower, whose six-month ban for punching Lance Hohaia in October’s Grand Final ended 48 hours before kick-off.
They’ve got a number of different players they can choose from in that sort of role. It’s whether they feel he’s the best one for the occasionTony Smith
Warriors coach Shaun Wane says he will throw Flower straight back into Super League action and will also welcome back John Bateman from a one-match ban, while confirming that O’Loughlin is not far away from ending his two-month injury lay-off.
Wane told a news conference on Tuesday that the England captain’s return could be against Warrington but is more likely to come at Wakefield next Thursday.
However, it would be no surprise if O’Loughlin was to face the Wolves, nor would it be a shock if Wigan unveil the re-signing of Sam Tomkins at half-time in the way they did when his brother Joel returned from a brief spell away from the club last June.
The only certainty is that Flower, set to start off on the bench, will get the chance to finally resume his career following his “moment of madness” at Old Trafford.
Wane has criticised the media frenzy over Flower’s return while Smith is simply blase about the whole affair.
“He’s served his time and, if his coach picks him for this match, that’s fine,” Smith said. “It makes no big difference to us.
“They’ve got a number of different players they can choose from in that sort of role. It’s whether they feel he’s the best one for the occasion.
“We haven’t lost any sleep over that.
“Whether Sean returns this weekend will be interesting as well. I’ve said it before, I think he has the biggest influence of any player on any team. Everyone know what a big fan I am of Sean’s.”
Wigan have shown signs of finding their form, with three wins from their last four matches, while Warrington ended a horror run of four straight defeats with an 80-0 rout of bottom club Wakefield last Saturday.
“Warrington are a fantastic team,” Wane said. “They’ve got some real class and we’re under no illusions that they are a massive threat. I’m looking forward to a real tussle.”
Leaders Leeds and reigning champions St Helens, who meet in a mouth-watering contest at Langtree Park on Friday night, are currently setting the pace but Smith insists there has been no obvious title favourite in the first 10 rounds.
“Aside from Leeds’ 40 minutes against Hull, there hasn’t been a time when I’ve gone ‘wow, look out’,” Smith said.
“Everybody’s had some stutters but I think some teams will find some form in the next little while, as the weather gets better. Easter sorts you out a bit - it flattens some teams and picks some teams up and hopefully we’re on that up.”
Meanwhile, Smith says he has no concern over throwing Dec Patton into Thursday’s big derby, just five days after the 19-year-old stand-off’s Super League debut.
“Some kids seem fazed or get a little daunted by the prospect of playing against one of the better teams in the comp but he takes it in his stride,” Smith said.
“Without being arrogant, he’s got some of that cockiness that half-backs should have. He’s too busy working out what he’s going to do to worry about what they’re going to be doing to him. I think he’ll thrive.
“He had a really good first-up game and it should give him some confidence. He’s got a nice temperament.
“At the start of the season he made some decisions to become much more professional and his rate of improvement has been enormous. He’s earned his right to have a crack at it.”