After Bradford Bulls’ 70-6 thumping at the hands of Hull FC, Wakefield Trinity Wildcats were handed the perfect opportunity to break into Super League’s Play-Off places at home to Widnes Vikings on Sunday evening.
The three-way battle for the final spot in the end-of-season lottery has provided a fascinating subplot this year since the Bulls’ 6-point deduction but 8th place has been treated like a hot potato by its previous occupants, Hull KR and beleaguered Bradford. With two games left to go, a sixth consecutive win for a resurgent Wildcats would put Wakefield in the driving seat ahead of next week’s final game of the regular season.
Such has been the recent form of Richard Agar’s team that a win at the off-colour Salford City Reds would be seen as a formality and ensure Wakefield’s first Play-Off finish since 2009 should they, first, beat bottom club, Widnes. A move to Newmarket would improve the stature of the club though there remains a carnival-like atmosphere at their ancient home of Belle Vue that will be hard to replicate in the future Trinity surroundings.
Current star player, Paul Sykes, kicked a 40-20 a minute into the game as he looked to continue his good form that has propelled the Wildcats into contention at the close of the season but Wakefield were unable to make the resulting set-of-six count. Five minutes later, Widnes’ Rhys Hanbury ran 40 metres to touch down for the first try of the game and kicked the extras to put the visitors 6-0 to the good.
Wakefield responded in the 12th minute when Kyle Amor made the most of Tim Smith’s pass 10 metres out to try by the posts and Sykes kicked the easy conversion to level the score. The rest of the first-half was then riddled with knock-ons and good defensive play, and appeared to be heading for no further scores until Tim Smith found himself a few metres from Widnes’ touchline but spurned the opportunity, losing the ball under pressure a few minutes before the half-time hooter.
The error proved costly as Hansbury shot up the other end and chipped the ball over Peter Fox to collect himself and score his second try. The conversion was missed and anxious noises came from the stands as the Vikings went into the break leading 10-6, and deservedly so, after a tepid first-half performance from the Wildcats. Widnes had beaten Hull FC last week as they bid to lift themselves from the bottom of the table but the first 40 minutes went against the script of a fabulous Wakefield raid on the Play-Offs.
Widnes sought to extend their lead in the second-half but Wakefield finally broke through the tight Vikings back line when Richard Mathers darted inside the challenges on the left wing to place the ball over the line in the 51st minute. A Sykes conversion was not forthcoming and the teams were tied at 10-10 as Wakefield were playing out yet another tight encounter on their home turf. Slim victories have been their forte of late and another narrow success would have been welcomed by the locals, who had witnessed some thrilling late drama that had resulted in the Wildcats’ upturn in form.
Widnes were not letting up, though, and Paddy Flynn stooped for a try on the on Wakefield’s left-hand side which was added to by Paul McShane’s conversion just before the hour mark. The sense of anticipation felt at the start of proceedings was giving way to a nervy atmosphere in the terraces as Wakefield faced an important final quarter of the game six points behind. The home side had yet to take the game by the scruff of the neck but contrived to score a well-worked try in the 62nd minute thanks to ex-Rhino Ali Lauitiiti’s burst through the centre from Mathers’ offload. Sykes converted and, once again, the game was in the balance; 16 points apiece.
A roar was heard from the home supporters as they tried to rally their Play-Off chasers over the line and Wakefield nearly responded perfectly, breaking from right defence before Kyle Wood was illegally man-handled with a try seemingly imminent. Flynn was sin-binned for his part in halting Trinity’s charge up the pitch and Sykes kicked a straight penalty between the posts to put Wakefield into the lead for the first time in the evening at 18-16 with 12 to play.
Knock-ons from Wakefield’s Ben Cockayne and the Vikings’ best player, Hanbury, scuppered promising attacks before Lee Smith pushed an opponent needlessly to gift Hanbury a penalty 40 metres out and the Australian made no mistake in bringing the score level again, and leave the home fans exasperated with under 10 minutes left to play. Wakefield returned to try and make the extra-man advantage count and Danny Kirmond produced the goods, going over in the corner to ease the tension that had been mounting with time running out.
Sykes’ goal kick agonisingly hit the post and the 22-18 score-line was not a safe cushion for Trinity by any means. However, the Wildcats defended the lead to the delight of a packed Belle Vue, who counted down the last 10 seconds before heralding the victory with a jubilant cheer.
Wakefield rode their luck and weren’t particularly convincing but did enough to satisfy a Play-Off-hungry crowd and with one round of Super League left to play, that fate lies in their hands.
Author: Andrew Belt