AFTER witnessing this, plenty of Wakefield fans will feel they will be watching Championship opponents more often in 2016.
Brian Smith’s side delivered an abject performance yesterday at part-timers Sheffield Eagles who, with a display packed with passion and grit, deservedly became only the second Championship team to defeat Super League opponents in 16 Qualifiers fixtures.
There was very little for Trinity to be enthused about, though, as with less than a week to go until their biggest fixture in almost a decade, they fell decidedly flat.
It certainly was far from ideal preparation for Saturday’s crucial Million Pound Game with Bradford Bulls.
They already knew before kick-off they had secured home advantage for that crunch game – which sees the winners in Super League in 2016 – after Bradford had crashed badly against Halifax on Saturday.
However, they had fielded a weakened team, resting plenty in readiness for next week, something Wakefield didn’t do yesterday.
Deflated head coach Brian Smith was left understandably “worried” after watching his stuttering side struggle against opponents who had been bottom of the Qualifiers table.
“I wouldn’t think that (performance) would get anywhere near winning next week,” confessed the Australian, after Trinity were kept scoreless in the second period by Sheffield’s resilient defence.
“It’s a worry. We came here to win. At times we were comprehensively outplayed.
“At other times, we did get some sort of opportunity to play some attacking football. We blew our chances and that kept the opposition in the match.
“Now we’ve just got to get ourselves ready to play our best game.”
There was no score from either side yesterday until Sheffield – bidding farewell to a host of players as the club prepares to go full-time in 2016 – crossed via Scott Turner in the 18th minute.
Their dynamic full-back Quentin Laulu-Togagae was the instigator with a lovely weaving run and then kick for the winger to pounce and Corey Aston was in again soon after when another chipped kick, this time in midfield, caused chaos for the visitors.
Pat Walker added the first of his three goals but Wakefield finally responded when Danny Kirmond, their captain playing his first game since June following shoulder surgery, crossed in the corner after 27 minutes
Nevertheless, Laulu-Togagae came to the fore again with another pinpoint kick for Menzie Yere to add Sheffield’s third try seven minutes later, Dom Brambani’s kick making it 16-4.
Wakefield were fortunate to get a foothold when Ben Kavanagh angled over after smart work from Ken Sio with just 25 seconds of the half remaining for Joe Arundel to convert and leave it finely balanced at 16-10.
Within seconds of the restart, Arundel surged clear and supplied Jacob Miller but the Australian inexplicably dropped the pass with the line begging. It was a crucial moment in the game; from thereon in, the Eagles defence did not look like crumbling again despite being under intense pressure as they continually shut down all Wakefield’s best promptings.
Equally so, the visitors made a raft of unforced handling errors in good positions and so it was Sheffield who pulled further ahead when Walker slotted a 65th minute penalty following a rare excursion out of their own half.
He converted again when James Davey, the ex-Trinity hooker, broke clear down the middle to send Laulu-Togagae over for the clincher nine minutes from time.
Smith admits his under-performing players may have already had thoughts on next week’s contest.
“It’s hard to know but it’s no excuse as if you’ve got your eyes somewhere else you’ve always a chance of running second,” he said.
Trinity have injury concerns as well with Scott Anderson going off inside the opening five minutes due to a problem with a medial knee ligament.
The Australian prop will almost certainly miss the Bradford game but his early exit did give Kirmond an early chance to get on the field and he did, admittedly, look in decent nick considering his long-lay off. Smith said: “Our plan was to put him on around 20 or 25-minute mark but he got through it pretty well, he came up with some good plays and he’s got some good match fitness for next week now, which is a big thing for him.”
Sheffield Eagles: Laulu-Togagae; Worrincy, Smeaton, Yere, Turner; Brambani, Aston; Battye, Carlile, Stringer, Knowles, Straugheir, Walker. Substitutes: Taulapapa, Tonks, Davies, Davey.
Wakefield Trinity Wildcats: Jowitt; Lynne, Tupou, Arundel, Johnstone; Miller, Godinet; Anderson, Sio, Scruton, Simon, Washbrook, Annakin. Substitutes: Lauitiiti, Kirmond, Kavanagh, Yates.
Referee: Joe Cobb (Manchester).