Luckless Wakefield Trinity Wildcats gave a better account of themselves against Warrington Wolves than the 42-12 scoreline suggests.
Wakefield, beaten 32-30 at the HJ Stadium in March, led early on, were level at the break and didn’t find themselves two scores behind until the final quarter.
It has been the story of Wakefield’s season that they have been able to play well in patches, but struggle to sustain it for the full 80.
That was the case against as they matched Warrington – who were possibly feeling the effects of a tough game in France seven days earlier – for an hour before falling away to concede four late tries.
The final scoreline did flatter the visitors, but the game illustrated what a good bit of business signing Ryan Atkins was, the former Wakefield man scoring a fine hat-trick.
Wildcats will rue some missed opportunities, but on defence for the most part they got men into tackles and put bodies on the line and it took some excellent opportunism to open them up.
Wildcats drew first blood inside five minutes with a storming finish by Frankie Mariano, after Tim Smith, Isaac John – restored to the side at stand-off – and Danny Washbrook had handled.
Paul Johnson was also recalled to the Wakefield side after a few weeks in the under-20s, with Ali Lauitiiti returning from a hamstring tear in the second-row and captain Steve Southern back on the bench after shaking off a calf injury.
That was the good news. The negative was losing in-form forward – and vice-captain – Danny Kirmond, due to an abductor muscle strain.
Paul Sykes converted, but Warrington levelled with ominous ease almost immediately when Atkins cut through against his former club, from a final pass by Brett Hodgson who also added the extras for the first of his seven conversions from as many attempts.
There aren’t many better left-centres in the British game than Atkins, despite his bizarre omission from either the England elite or Knights squads.
He provided the money ball at the end of the first quarter to send Chris Riley in for the visitors’ second try.
When Hodgson converted superbly off the touchline, on the back of a spell of sustained pressure, Warrington looked set to run away with the game.
But to their credit the home side dug in and dominated the second 20, on the back of a succession of penalties.
The hosts got over the line twice without reward on the back of a flurry of penalties around the half hour mark.
Rookie referee Tim Roby – promoted out of the Championships as cover for the injured Phil Bentham – decided Dean Collis had been held up from Mathers’ pass.
And then moments later Mathers – captain for the day – went over, but Roby spotted an obstruction in the build-up. Six minutes before the break Wakefield finally turned their pressure into points. Kyle Amor – one of three Kyles among Wakefield’s substitutes, alongside Trout and Wood – was hauled down just short and Southern marked his return by blasting across from close-range on the next play.
Sykes’ goal squared things up and Wildcats would have gone in ahead if he’d managed to find Ben Cockayne, rather than the touchline, with a pass just before the interval.
Stefan Ratchford returned to Warrington’s line-up after 11 weeks out due to a shoulder injury and he was on hand to take Matty Blythe’s superb try-creating pass at the start of the second period.
Wakefield could have replied within seconds when Mariano cut into space, with Mathers in support. He dummied, went himself and when the pass finally came it was too low and Mathers couldn’t hang on.
Then Smith’s kick from well inside his own half caught the Warrington defence napping, but the ball rolled into touch before Peter Fox arrived to pick up for what would have been a certain try.
At the other end, Sykes’ superb tackle on Tyrone McCarthy kept Warrington out, but the visitors finally put some daylight between the sides with 18 minutes left when Ratchford notched his second, after Smith had turned over possession by kicking out on the full near his own line, then Atkins completed his brace two minutes later.
Hodgson’s long pass then carved out a hat-trick score for Atkins and Riley intercepted Wood’s pass for his second in the final moments.
Referee Roby had a good game, well supported by his touch-judges. The penalty count went 10-8 in Wakefield’s favour.