Warrington Wolves coach Tony Smith is happy to risk his side being jet-lagged for the start of Super League as he prepares to take them to Australia for the next three weeks.
The Wolves fly out to Sydney on Saturday with a 25-strong squad and full support staff for a training camp, culminating in a friendly match against actor Russell Crowe’s South Sydney at Redfern Oval on Saturday, January 28.
The team will arrive back in England two days later and play their first Super League match against Hull FC at the KC Stadium six days after that, with Smith admitting they could be under the weather.
“We couldn’t get a game any earlier because the season for the Australians starts so much later than ours,” Smith said at the club’s pre-season media day.
“We weighed it all up - a three-week training camp in Australia against the risk of arriving six days before the competition starts - and we’re happy to take the three weeks and the experience our players will gain.
“If it means that we’re a bit jaded for the first game - which I doubt we will be - we’ll see it as a real good challenge for us and we’ll roll our sleeves up as we do when we encounter any problems.
“If it means we drop a game or two, we feel it’s still worthwhile. However, we’re not prepared to drop a game or two.”
In addition to training in perfect conditions by swapping an English winter for an Australian summer, Smith feels the trip will have long-term benefits for both his players and coaching team.
“We’re doing some real alternative things and looking at other sports,” he added.
“As well as decent training and playing a game against South Sydney, we’re also training with the Sydney Swans for a couple of days and training with some surf life-savers on the beach and there are options to train with Olympic swimmers and boxers.
“On top of that, all 10 of my staff will go into various organisations while we’re there to learn and bring back experiences from other sports.
“So there will be benefits for the staff and the players even after this trip has finished.”
Smith is taking all his senior players, including full-back Brett Hodgson and scrum-half Richie Myler, who are both expected to miss the first month of the new season through injury.
Hodgson is still recovering from an ankle injury while Myler suffered a dislocated elbow during the Boxing Day friendly against Widnes Vikings.
“Richie’s progressing pretty well,” Smith said. “The expectation is for him to be back playing at the start of March and anything prior to that will be a bonus.”
Myler’s former Salford City Reds team-mate Stefan Ratchford, one of three major close-season signings, is favourite to fill in at scrum-half in the short term but is facing competition from Gareth O’Brien, Chris Bridge, Simon Grix and Michael Monaghan.
The 19-year-old O’Brien caught the eye while making a tryscoring Super League debut against Castleford last May before sustaining a serious knee injury a week later.
“He got the all-clear yesterday and he’s flying now,” Smith said. “He’ll get a run-out against South Sydney. He’s a terrific young talent and we’ve got high hopes for his future.
“We’ve got plenty of options. Stefan will also get an opportunity to put his name forward.
“I’d feel comfortable playing Stefan in any position in the backline and possibly a couple of positions in the scrum if we had to. Part of his attraction was his versatility.”