Smith, who switched from Hull KR last year, blooded new Australian recruits Tex Hoy and Jake Clifford from the start against the Championship side as a strong comeback in the second half sealed a hard-fought 22-20 success.
But arguably Smith’s biggest positive was 24-year-old Cator emerging unscathed from a 17-month long injury nightmare, interspersed with a 40-minute comeback bid in March which resulted in a rare re-rupture of his Achilles injury.
Smith was full of praise for the loose forward, who appeared off the bench just before the interval as he increasingly rang the changes, saying: “Joe handled it really well and it was great to see him come through it unscathed.
“He is on top of things and he has been confident for a while, but it is another thing going out on the pitch and doing it all again.”
Cator himself is convinced he will emerge as a stronger person and player for the experience, and is looking forward to playing an integral role in Smith’s new-look side when the Super League season gets under way next month.
“It’s 17 months since I walked off that pitch fit and injury-free, so that was a real box-tick for me today,” said Cator, who was employed in the back row for periods in the second half.
“It’s been a long 17 months with 40 minutes in the middle of that. I want to play it down, but in the back of my mind I’m proud of myself. It’s been a long time and it did mean a lot to me to get on the field.
“I think if you go through anything like that it makes you a better person, and mentally it does make me stronger. If I can get through that and get back to playing, it gives me a lot of confidence.”
Meanwhile Smith, whose side’s ability to claw back an eight-point half-time deficit was largely due to a 20-minute cameo appearance by former Leeds hooker Brad Dwyer, believes his side are easing their way into the new campaign.
“We’re going in a bit under-cooked,” Smith admitted. “I know some teams started before us and have probably done some harder stuff than us.
“I’m just wary of being over-cooked. You can put the cake back in the oven if it isn’t quite cooked, and we’re probably not cooked enough yet, but we’ve still got a month to go.”