THESE ARE exciting times for fans of West Yorkshire’s Betfred Super League clubs, especially those in the Wakefield district.
Castleford Tigers, Leeds Rhinos and Wakefield Trinity all won last weekend and are now first, third and fourth respectively.
Tigers have, rightly, received the plaudits for their thrilling style of attacking rugby, but Wakefield are – for the second successive season – the surprise package. Bottom of the table in 2015 and fortunate to avoid relegation, they were 12th when Chris Chester took over as coach, following Brian Smith’s departure, at Easter last year.
Chester – a Wakefield fan – inspired a remarkable resurgence in 2016 which resulted in an eighth-place finish in Super League and a run to the semi-finals of the Ladbrokes Challenge Cup.
When they fell away in the Super-8s, losing all seven matches, it looked like some of the magic may have worn off, but instead Trinity regrouped and are having an even better season this time.
Twenty points is reckoned to be the number needed to secure a top-eight spot after 23 rounds and Wakefield already have 22. They have won seven successive games in all competitions, a run stretching back to late April and proved they are the real deal last week when they recorded three victories in 10 days.
The fact one of those wins was at Wigan, where they trailed 20-0 after as many minutes and the other was away to second-placed Salford Red Devils suggests Trinity are genuine top-six contenders and maybe even top four.
Wakefield have recruited smartly and are beginning to retain key players for next year. The saga over where they will play in 2018 rumbles on, but otherwise – under astute chairman Michael Carter – they are in better shape off the field than for some considerable time.
Chester and John Kear have formed a smart coaching team and they also have some good young players coming through, particularly forward James Batchelor, who looks to have a bright future.
Saturday evening’s home showdown with Leeds is massive. Only a points difference of 14 separates the sides and Wakefield will fancy their chances against a Rhinos team that has blown hot and cold this year.
Chester and John Kear have formed a smart coaching team and they also have some good young players coming through, particularly forward James Batchelor, who looks to have a bright future.The YEP’s Peter Smith
While Wakefield would, even now, be happy to finish in the top six, Leeds are one of the teams chasing second place.
A lot could change over the next 13 matches, but at the moment the league leaders’ shield seems to be heading to Castleford.
Tigers are in the zone and, after a few early hiccups, it seems they can do no wrong. Last Sunday’s remarkable victory over St Helens was evidence of that.
Even when Tigers are forced – or decide – to bring in players from outside their elite squad, the machine runs smoothly. Machine may be the wrong word; there’s certainly nothing robotic about a side playing with such speed, flair, enthusiasm, confidence and creativity.
Though Salford and Wakefield have impressed, Tigers remain streets ahead of anybody else in the competition. The fact some of the traditional big guns aren’t firing has helped Trinity and Tigers.
Warrington – last year’s league leaders and Challenge Cup and Grand Final runners-up – have ‘done a Leeds’ by falling away in spectacular fashion.
They are fourth from bottom and in real danger of finding themselves in the middle-eights. St Helens aren’t much better and are bumping along in seventh place, and Wigan Warriors, who are sixth, have not won in their last six games. Of those, Wigan, who have been rocked by a massive injury list, seem the most capable of mounting a late surge, though Saints did show some promising signs under new coach Justin Holbrook before being undone at Castleford last weekend.
Even so, the only teams in the top five with any recent history of winning silverware are Leeds and Hull and they have both been inconsistent.
At this stage a new name on at least one of the major trophies looks highly likely.