ANOTHER SEASON of progress made Wakefield Trinity one of 2017’s success stories.
Trinity did not win a trophy or feature in a semi-final, but they are in a much healthier state now than just two years ago.
Since finishing 11 points adrift at the foot of the table and scrambling past Bradford Bulls in the 2015 million pound match, Trinity have been transformed under coach Chris Chester, backed by chairman Michael Carter.
Their former coach John Kear’s return as head of rugby was a masterstroke and he and Chester have moulded a team who are resilient, hard to beat and play attractive rugby.
What they lacked in 2017 was experience of how to win big games at the right end of the table. Trinity are used to playing sudden-death rugby, for negative reasons, but on a couple of occasions this year when they had a real achievement within their grasp they let it slip.
A win or even narrow defeat at home to St Helens in the final round of the Betfred Super League season would have secured third place, but they were crushed 41-16.
A semi-final spot – either third or fourth – was on the cards with three games remaining in the Super-8s, but Trinity let winning leads slip against Saints and Hull, in both cases by the width of a post. Their opponents knew how to deal with tight, tense situations, but Trinity will be better for the experience.
Last year Trinity fell away after finishing eighth in the regular season. There was no repeat this term and they were in top-four contention until the final round. There were no really heavy defeats, Wakefield conceded more than 40 points only three times and half of their 14 league losses were by a converted score or less.
Trinity played to their strengths. Pace in the backs produced some outstanding long-range tries – particularly for Ben Jones-Bishop and Mason Caton-Brown – and their pack muscled up most weeks.
David Fifita had a big year and Tinirau Arona was outstanding, but the star turn was second-rower Matty Ashurst. A model of consistency, he made 31 appearances and would have been in England World Cup contention if he played for a more glamorous club.
Trinity also got very good value out of on-loan Dean Hadley, who will be missed following his recall by parent-club Hull.
Sam Williams, who has rejoined Canberra Raiders after one season at Wakefield, did not make the impact expected, but, despite a long spell on the sidelines due to a broken leg, Jacob Miller called the shots and half-back partner Liam Finn had an outstanding year.
Scott Grix’s experience at full-back was a big influence and Bill Tupou was another unheralded player who did an excellent job.
Trinity don’t have any superstars, but they are a well-organised unit and their team spirit is obvious. Failing to finish in the top-four was a disappointment – which in itself shows how far Trinity have come.
But they beat all their top-flight rivals other than league leaders Castleford Tigers and Challenge Cup winners Hull. The limp Cup exit at Salford Red Devils was one of the season’s low points.
But highs included a remarkable comeback win at Wigan Warriors and the 38-6 home thrashing of Leeds Rhinos in the Super-8s.
Issues with the ground continued to cast a shadow over the club.
The prospect of a new community stadium at Belle Vue is an exciting one, but – after more than two decades of false hope – most fans will believe it when they are in place watching the first ball kicked.
Years of struggle have reduced Trinity’s support to a hard core, but their current team deserves more backing and surely that will come if they continue their recent rate of improvement.
Wakefield Trinity 2017
Super League: Fifth
Played 23, won 13, lost 10, drew 0. Scored 572, conceded 506. Points 26.
Played 30, won 16, lost 14, drew 0. Scored 745, conceded 648. Points 32.
Challenge Cup: Quarter-final.
YEP player of the year: Matty Ashurst.
Best moment: Coming from 20-0 behind to win 42-30 at Wigan.
Low point: The last-gasp home loss to St Helens in the Super-8s.