Warrington Wolves rugby league coach Tony Smith has pledged his backing to Pontefract squash star James Willstrop ahead of the AJ Bell World Squash Championship in Manchester this autumn.
Smith is a keen squash player and the 46-year-old Australian can often be found at Pontefract Squash Club where he has shared a court with Willstrop, the current world number three.
“I’ve had a few games with James and I am a big supporter in many ways and for many reasons,” said former Leeds Rhinos coach Smith.
“James is an inspiring and incredible role model for young sports people. In victory, he is one of the most gracious sports people around, as he is in defeat. Certainly, he influences my outlook towards sporting events.
“He is a very good professional with a fantastic attitude. Anybody who watches squash must enjoy watching James because he plays an incredible style. He always brings the utmost entertainment to a squash court and I know what it would mean to him and to Malcolm (James’s father) for him to become world champion.”
Such is Smith’s admiration for Squash that he often takes his squad to Pontefract for ‘alternative’ training days and will occasionally lock horns with coaching contemporary Richard Agar, of Wakefield Wildcats.
“When I was coach at Leeds Rhinos, one of the players, Barrie McDermott, had a testimonial and one of his functions was at Pontefract,” said Smith, who also coached England during the 2008 Rugby League World Cup in Australia.
“Barrie knew I played socially so I was asked to attend that event. I finished up taking on Lee Beachill who, at the time, was world number one. I became friends with Malcolm Willstrop and I have gone back ever since.
“If I have a day off then he throws me on court with some of his professionals and abuses me about my squash ability. Then I buy him lunch and we talk about our coaching philosophies. It’s my ideal day off.
“We have taken our players over to Pontefract three or four times for training as well as I think there is huge benefit for us in terms of fitness, agility and footwork. There are a few players, like Lee Briers and Mickey Higham, who also fancy themselves with a racket.
“But even at 46, the old coach has got them safely under control. There’s plenty of daylight between them and me.”
Tickets for the 2013 AJ Bell World Squash Championship at the National Squash Centre in Manchester from Monday October 28 to Wednesday October 30 and Manchester Central from Thursday October 31 to Sunday November 3, cost from £11 and can be purchased by visiting http://www.ticketmaster.co.uk/PSA-Mens-World-Squash-Championship-tickets/artist/1853765