THE NEXT two games could make or break Wakefield Trinity Wildcats’ season.
Wildcats are third from bottom in First Utility Super League and will play the only teams below them in successive matches, separated by a weekend off when the competition takes a break for the quarter-finals of the Tetley’s Challenge Cup.
Wildcats visit second-bottom Bradford Bulls on Sunday, followed – almost two weeks later – by a Friday night home clash with 14th-placed London Broncos, who are one of the four teams they defeated during the first half of the season.
Wakefield are eight points clear of the bottom two and even if Bulls’ appeal against a six-point penalty for entering administration is successful, victories against both their nearest rivals would virtually end Wildcats’ fears of relegation.
Bulls have suffered heavy defeats in their last three matches, but Wakefield stand-off Paul Sykes – a former Bradford player – insisted Wildcats’ priority is putting their own house in order, rather than concentrating too much on the opposition.
“We have just got to focus on ourselves and not worry about them,” Sykes said.
“We will worry about them when we play them on the day.
“We have got to get our own performances right before we can look at them. We are just going to take things step by step.”
With relegation back on the agenda for the first time since 2007, Sunday’s game is being built up as one of the biggest matches of the Super League season so far, but Sykes said Wildcats can’t afford to get caught up in the hype.
He added: “We are treating it as just another game really. That’s what we are going to approach it as. We just want the two points, that’s it.”
Despite their last two results, Wakefield are in a much healthier position than could have been expected at the start of the year and Sykes said they are aware of which areas need to improve if they are to get back to winning ways.
“We have been going all right sometimes,” said Sykes, who scored the winning try away to Widnes Vikings earlier this month
“We have been in games for long periods, but we are just falling away at the end because we’re not completing our sets.
“We are giving the ball away in easy areas and pretty bad field position, but that’s what we train for, to put that right. We have just got to get back to the drawing board and take it into the game this week.”
The 36-4 defeat by visitors Warrington Wolves two days ago was a classic example of that.
Wakefield trailed only 6-0 after 33 minutes, but Warrington ran in three quick-fire tries just before the break to take total control.
After Warrington scored early in the second period Wakefield again matched them for a spell, before conceding two more touchdowns in the closing minutes.
Sykes said: “We weren’t far off for 34 minutes, but we just had six minutes of madness towards the back end of the first half, when we let three tries in. I thought we were going all right up until then. We spoke about coming out in the second half and not folding, but they rolled us a bit and we never got our kicking game right. There’s still signs of improvement and we are going to have a big week this week ahead of the game on Sunday.”
Two 50-point wins – over Catalan Dragons and London – earlier in the season and the back-to-back victories this month at Hull and Widnes illustrated what Wildcats are capable of.
“We know we can do it, but we have got to be consistent,” Sykes stressed. “We can’t just play well for a couple of weeks and then have a couple of weeks off and then turn it on again for another couple of weeks.
“The lads are pretty gutted (about Sunday). We had a pretty good dig in the first half, but we couldn’t catch it back up in the second half. We’ve just got to pick ourselves up, really.”
Team spirit has been key for Wildcats over the past couple of seasons and Sykes said the squad remain upbeat overall. “The togetherness will always be there,” he stated. “The lads are great. We always have a laugh around the place, but we know we need to perform better. We know we can do that, we have just got to show it.”
Injuries have added to Wakefield’s woes this year. On-loan forward Jacob Fairbank damaged an ankle against Warrington and players unavailable last Sunday included Dean Collis, Reece Lyne, Andy Raleigh, Ali Lauitiiti, Taulima Tautai and Jimmy Keinhorst.
“He (coach Richard Agar) has done a bit of rotating and we’ve got people playing out of position,” Sykes said.
“Lucas Walshaw is playing in the centre. He is more of a back-rower, but he has done a good job in the last few games.
“It is no excuse, we have just got to stick together and whatever team goes out there we have got to put 100 per cent in.
“We know if we do that we can pick up some results.”
Walshaw was Wildcats’ only try scorer against Warrington and Sykes feels the giant youngster has real potential.
“He is a good player,” Sykes said.
“He is a quiet lad, but if he comes out of his shell and opens up a little bit more he could do really well.”