Backlash: Wildcats hooker Paul McShane is expecting the vikings to come out fighting in the battle for eighth place. Dave Craven reports.
WAKEFIELD Trinity Wildcats hooker Paul McShane is expecting a backlash from Widnes Vikings as the battle for the much-coveted eighth spot heats up.
His side host the team who are currently in the final play-off place in a live televised game at Belle Vue on Thursday night.
Eleventh-placed Wakefield, who are unbeaten in their last four fixtures since James Webster took over from Richard Agar, will cut the gap between them and Widnes to just two points if they can overcome Denis Betts’ side.
The visitors were challenging for the top four earlier this season but have endured a wretched turn in form, their 40-20 home defeat in front of the Sky TV cameras against Castleford Tigers last Thursday meaning they have now won just once in their last seven league fixtures.
Widnes have reached the Challenge Cup semi-finals, where they face Castleford next month, and there is a feeling the prospect of Wembley may be distracting them in the interim.
Asked if there will be pressure on Widnes – Hull KR are just a point adrift of them following their stunning win over leaders St Helens and Hull FC are only four behind – McShane admitted: “Yes, maybe.
“But they’ve also won some big games earlier in the year.
“You can’t just forget that. No one would have put them in the top eight earlier this season but they’ve gone really, really well.
“Widnes will come and use the ball very well. They are a great attacking side and we need to counteract that.
“They’ll want to get back to winning ways and will want to do it against us on Thursday so we know what to expect.”
McShane, 24, is familiar with the style of Widnes’ play given he spent a 11 games on loan there from Leeds Rhinos in 2012, scoring three tries and gaining some much-needed experience.
He will be up against Jon Clarke, the veteran ex-Great Britain hooker who retires at the end of the season.
“He is a great professional,” said McShane.
“He trains hard and does everything right on the field.
“He’s a leader for that team and, as well as Kevin Brown and their other half-backs, they have a great team there that can play some great football.
“But we just need to keep doing what we’ve been doing.”
That includes defeating his former club Leeds in a memorable finish at Belle Vue last Friday.
Wildcats showed great courage, battling back from 8-6 at half-time and again when England winger Ryan Hall scored for Leeds in the 68th minute.
Richard Owen grabbed the crucial try just two minutes from the end to give them a 16-14 success and continue Webster’s brilliant start in the hot seat.
He has benefitted from being at home each time – Widnes will be a fifth successive fixture there – but an opening win over London Broncos, followed by a terrific success against champions Wigan Warriors and 20-20 draw versus Hull FC have transformed their campaign.
Instead of worrying about potentially being dragged into the relegation mire they are now looking at gatecrashing the play-offs.
So, what’s been Webster’s secret?
“He’s just emphasised about working hard for each other,” added McShane, who scored 14 tries in 63 games for Leeds, winning the 2011 World Club Challenge against Manly Sea Eagles before leaving last year.
“I think performances are showing that we’re covering each other’s backs on the field and we’re getting rewards for it.
“To get those two points on Friday was massive.
“We’re on a good run at the minute and it was nice to get a win against my old club but we’re just taking each game as it comes and just concentrating on each opponent as they arrive. If we keep performing and working hard for each other then results are going to come. If we end up there (play-offs) it’s an added bonus.”
The Leeds victory was the club’s first against their West Yorkshire rivals in six meetings and it also denied their opponents top spot in Super League.
Another ex-Rhinos star, Richard Mathers, was to the fore, the full-back scoring one try and then putting Owen over at the death.
Leeds-born McShane, who came through the Academy ranks at Headingley before making his Super League debut in 2009, admitted: “The last couple of weeks, he’s been outstanding.
“Him, Timmy (Smith) and Sykesy know each other well and buzz off each other.
“It’s working well with those three and hopefully we can take it on to Widnes and keep this run of ours going.”
FORMER Wakefield Trintiy Wildcats stand-off Ben Jeffries is returning to England in Leigh Centurions colours.
The Australian, 33, headed home to work in the mining industry at the end of 2012 after a second spell at Bradford Bulls.
Jeffries, who scored 70 tries in 161 Super League games during two spells withTrinity, has been playing part-time for the Kurri Kurri Bulldogs in the Newcastle Competition.
But, having originally joined Wakefield in 2002, he has now signed a two-year full-time deal with Championship leaders Leigh starting on December 1.