Warrington Wolves: Age should be no barrier for Tony Smith's strong squad
There may be no new faces at the Wolves, but some familiar ones will be confident of going one better than last year.
Last Updated: 01/02/13 2:27pm
The Wolves are at the door when it comes to winning Super League, but despite all the knocking they do they still can't quite find a way to get in. A Grand Final appearance at least showed they are over their play-off issues, and they could console their disappointment at another Wembley win.
Tony Smith made sure his players would be fresh for the season finale by cleverly managing his squad during the course of the year, though it didn't affect their performances on the field.
The Halliwell Jones Stadium was a fortress for the Wolves with only one home defeat in the regular season to finish second behind Wigan, while they scored a half-century of points in six outings.
A third Challenge Cup triumph in four years is an impressive record for a club that was starved of success for so long. Brett Hodgson was the hero in the final, one of the players - along with club captain Adrian Morley and stand-off Lee Briers - that Smith took good care of throughout the year.
Even when it seemed they would suffer a familiar fate when losing at home to St Helens in their first play-off outing, Warrington responded by going on the road to Langtree Park to beat the same opponents and book a trip to Old Trafford.
Leeds proved one hurdle too many to clear, gaining revenge for the cup defeat to the same opponents. While they did get closer than they had before to being crowned champions, that Super League trophy must seem further away than ever right now to Warrington.
Ins and outs
In previous years the Wolves have never been afraid to splash the cash. This winter, however, they didn't bother opening up the chequebook. In fact they didn't both signing anyone at all.
Smith simply did not need to add too much to his squad because in resting some of his senior citizens in 2012, he had given opportunities to younger players to taste first-team action.
A number of those who experienced the chance to play have been rewarded with new long-term contracts. Ben Evans has been allowed to go out on loan to Super League rivals Bradford the 2013 campaign and others might leave on temporary deals during the coming months.
Another player to end up at the Bulls is Matty Blythe, who should relish more regular game-time in Yorkshire, as too might Bobbie Goulding Jnr at Wakefield Wildcats.
Lee Mitchell has headed for a new life Down Under and after many years of sterling service in England for Warrington, Wakefield and Bradford, David Solomona has hung up his scrum cap. He has been a superb overseas presence in Super League since arriving in 2004.
"Having come so close to the Super League title last year, don't expect Warrington to be suffering with a Grand Final hangover in 2013.
While there have been no new arrivals at the Halliwell Jones Stadium, coach Tony Smith still has a squad packed full of talent and will be confident he can once again mastermind a trip to Old Trafford in October.
The one area for concern pointed out by some is that the Wolves are getting no younger. In fact, 10 of the squad are in their 30s, meaning Smith will have to take special care with some to make sure they get through the entire year.
Yet there is no reason to worry about any of his players being over the hill. Brett Hodgson and Lee Briers both showed last year that father time is far from catching up with them just yet. The pair will be pivotal again.
Warrington also have strength in depth - Stefan Ratchford has the ability and the skillset to cover a number of positions, while younger players like Rhys Evans and Gareth O'Brien have shown themselves to be Super League ready.
Perhaps the biggest leap, though, was made by Chris Hill. The prop - who was playing for Leigh in the Championship in 2011 - will be part of a powerful pack that could push the Wolves to glory. Don't rule out another successful trip to Wembley, nor a return journey to Manchester.