Inside RL: Teams like Wakefield could be cast adrift – Smith

Wakefield coach Brian Smith with Cath and Gary Hetherington, the Leeds Rhinos chief executive.
Wakefield coach Brian Smith with Cath and Gary Hetherington, the Leeds Rhinos chief executive.
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THE MARQUEE player allowance is probably the last thing on new Wakefield Trinity Wildcats coach Brian Smith’s mind.

Smith took charge on Monday morning, the day after Wildcats slumped to their 14th successive First Utility Super League defeat, 58-26 at home to a half-paced Leeds Rhinos.

That was the sixth time this year they have conceded more than half a century of points and they have kept the opposition below 40 just once in their last 11 league matches.

It’s a grim situation, though far from hopeless. Smith has been out of the game since leaving Sydney Roosters in 2012, but is one of the most experienced team bosses in the sport.

A former coach of the year in Australia’s NRL, he turned Hull’s fortunes around a quarter of a century ago and had a positive effect on Bradford Bulls at the start of the Super League era.

He has also led sides to four Grand Finals Down Under and a remarkable number of current Super League coaches have either played under or worked alongside him, or with people who have.

He could be an inspired appointment. He has the experience, the know-how and the contacts and the big thing is, he hasn’t inherited a bad squad.

Wildcats have no form whatsoever and are low on confidence, but there are some good players on their roster – as illustrated by the fact several of them are allegedly attracting attention from other Super League clubs.

If Smith can get them playing to their potential, they are capable of hanging on to their Super League status.

Smith has seven games to prepare Wildcats for the start of their real season, the Qualifiers against the other teams in Super League’s bottom four, plus the Kingstone Press Championship’s best sides.

Speaking to the media after Sunday’s game, Smith made it clear he believes there are things that can be done to bring about a rapid improvement, which is obviously what’s needed.

Working on confidence and consistency will presumably be a priority.

Wildcats started and finished well against Leeds, but conceded seven tries in 19 minutes after half-time.

Once the opposition get a roll on, they find it tough to halt the carnage, but they scored some good tries against Leeds – three of them in the final 10 minutes – and in the previous week’s drubbing by Castleford Tigers, and they are a decent attacking team, when they get their game in order.

There is, according to chairman Michael Carter, money available to spend if Smith decides to bring in fresh faces.

Another of Smith’s strengths is his contacts in the game. For a start, his younger brother, Tony, is coach at Warrington Wolves, who are one of the Super League clubs with a strong academy base. There may be players at Warrington who need game time and could improve Wakefield’s squad.

Smith has been non-committal about his long-term plans, but his spell in charge of Wakefield has got him back into the game and if he can keep them up, it will be a mutually-beneficial arrangement.

There should be signs of improvement by the time it comes to the Qualifiers. Wakefield were 24-6 up at half-time of their recent Ladbrokes Challenge Cup tie against Championship leaders Leigh, before collapsing in a heap, so they shouldn’t have any reason to fear the lower division sides they meet in August and September.

The feeling at Wildcats is if they can survive this year, things will be be more secure for them next term, certainly financially, though without a rich backer, they will continue to struggle to compete.

Wakefield are allegedly the only Super League club not to spend the full salary cap, so the marquee player exemption – allowing teams to bring in or keep hold of a high-profile player – won’t make much difference to them.

Something needed to be done to retain and recruit quality players to Super League, so it will be interesting to see how that works, though the fear must be clubs like Wakefield will just be cast further adrift.