Harry Smith delighted to see hard work at Wigan turn to England opportunity

By Sports Desk October 21, 2023

After delivering a stinging response to his critics by leading Wigan to Grand Final glory last week, Harry Smith is relishing the prospect of winning his second England cap in the first match of a three-test series against Tonga on Sunday.

The 23-year-old Wigan stand-off played an increasingly pivotal role in his club’s surge to the Super League title, culminating in kicking six points in their 10-2 win over Catalans at Old Trafford last weekend in the Betfred Grand Final.

It marked a glittering end to the season for Smith, who missed out on the prestigious Harry Sunderland man-of-the-match trophy by a single vote, and was all the more impressive given early season concerns over his inconsistency with the boot.

Ahead of the clash at St Helens’ Totally Wicked Stadium, Smith told the PA news agency: “I’m very happy with how the season went in terms of leadership and game management, and winning the confidence of my team-mates and (Wigan head coach) Matt Peet.

“I got a bit of stick due to my kicking, and some of it was probably a bit unfair. I thought my overall performance, creating stuff for the team, was really good.

“I never really over-thought it. I knew the work I was putting in would pay off, and I just had to keep looking forward and not backwards. I feel like I’ve really managed to make those improvements in the last few months.”

Smith made his only previous England appearance in a one-sided 64-0 thrashing of France earlier this year and knows his side face a different proposition against a Tonga squad stacked with talent from Australia’s NRL.

In the absence through suspension of regular captain George Williams, Smith is set to form a new half-back partnership with Hull KR’s Mikey Lewis, one of two potential debutants in coach Shaun Wane’s 19-man matchday squad alongside Leeds’ Harry Newman.

For more experienced members of the squad, the series represents the chance to finally shrug off any lingering disappointment from last year’s dramatic golden point World Cup semi-final defeat to Samoa at the Emirates Stadium.

Smith added: “The Samoa game has not been mentioned much, because there’s obviously quite a lot of players in the squad who were not involved, but there are definitely some who still have that bitter feeling.

“It’s more about how we can move on with the aim of getting to a World Cup final in the future. It’s why we take up the sport, to play in the biggest games, and the difference between this and the France game is obvious.

“You can feel it in training, the intensity is much bigger than before the France game, because not only are you surrounded with really good players, but you know how good those are who you are coming up against.”

St Helens full-back Jack Welsby has been handed the honour of becoming England’s youngest ever captain on his home ground and will come face-to-face with domestic team-mate Will Hopoate in the opposite position.

Saints team-mate Tommy Makinson is another survivor from the Samoa nightmare and he believes Welsby’s ascent to the captaincy, in place of the now-retired Sam Tomkins, has been an inevitability for some time.

“I’m really proud first and foremost,” said Makinson. “It’s been coming and in his performances over the past two or three years, we’ve all seen what Jack can do.

“He’s a back-to-back Man of Steel candidate and all the accolades have come his way. He’s not really very vocal, but he’s honest, hard-working and more than anything he’s a good bloke, and that’s why everyone respects him.”

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