Inside RL: Every minute may not matter for all clubs – Smith

Wakefield Wildcats' Jacob Miller.
Wakefield Wildcats' Jacob Miller.
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Not every moment will matter this season.

Given the situation Wakefield Trinity Wildcats are in, their season won’t really start until another 14 First Utility Super League rounds have been completed.

Rock-bottom of the table, Wakefield are on a seven-game losing run and found themselves cast two points adrift after second-bottom Hull pulled off a surprise win at second-top St Helens on Easter Monday.

With a lengthy injury list and fewer resources than their rivals, it is difficult to see where Wildcats’ next win will come from. Unless something really unexpected happens, Wakefield will be in the bottom four – probably 12th place – when the competition divides into the Super-8s and Qualifiers after 23 rounds, but all is not lost.

The Qualifiers will involve Super League’s bottom four clubs, plus the leading quartet from the Kingstone Press Championship. They will play each other once and the three top teams after that will play in Super League next year.

The final place in the top-flight will be decided by the ‘million pound game’ between the teams in fourth and fifth spot, with the loser – along with the three remaining clubs – being consigned to the Championship.

Therefore, it is possible a team could finish ninth in Super League, possibly missing out on the Super-8s on points difference, but still find themselves relegated if they fail to perform in the qualifiers.

And equally, it doesn’t really matter what Wakefield do between now and round 23, as long as they get their game together in the final seven – or maybe eight – matches of the campaign.

Wildcats showed what they are capable of, when they have a fit and healthy squad, by beating Castleford Tigers and Hull KR in the opening two rounds of the season.

Super League’s ninth and 10th-placed clubs – along with the top two in the Championship – will have four home games in the Qualifiers, so there’s still that to play for, but realistically Wakefield’s best option is to ensure they have all their troops back on board by July, when the new mini-season begins.

It is likely the four Super League clubs will be low on form and confidence when they take on Championship sides who are the opposite, but Wakefield and whoever else joins them will be battle-hardened and used to playing at a higher standard than their rivals from the second tier.

Assuming Wakefield, who are only four points adrift of eighth-place, don’t turn things around, who will join them in the Qualifiers is an intriguing question.

Two of last year’s bottom four – Salford Red Devils and Hull KR – are currently third and fourth and among Super League’s form clubs. Both look capable of at least hanging on to a top-eight spot.

That said, only two points separate Hull KR from ninth-placed Warrington Wolves, who seemed in good shape when they beat Leeds Rhinos last month, but have lost their four games since.

Though a gap may be opening up at the top, overall it is turning into a tight and unpredictable competition, which is what the governing body hoped for when they introduced the new format at the start of the year.

Warrington should be too good to get dragged into a relegation dogfight, but the same can’t be said of Hull, despite their win over St Helens.

Their lame performance against Hull KR in last Thursday’s derby actually helped them four days later, as they had much more fuel left in the tank than Saints, who had been involved in a bruising Good Friday encounter with Wigan Warriors.

If Todd Carney remains on the casualty list, Catalans Dragons are in danger of dropping into the bottom four and Widnes Vikings, though they are capable of picking up important wins at home, are also looking anxiously over their shoulder.

Those four clubs may have the most to worry about at this stage, but if the past nine weeks are anything to go by, there will be plenty more twists and turns ahead.