WAKEFIELD TRINITY WILDCATS boss Brian Smith took plenty of positives from his first game in charge – and the veteran Australian will know if the squad show the same bravery as Stuart Howarth they could get themselves out of their current mess.
Ultimately, Trinity did endure a 15th successive Super League loss yesterday but the eight-point margin of defeat against Salford Red Devils was by far the narrowest since losing to the same opponents when this wretched run first began in February.
Smith’s side were well-organised defensively, were unlucky not to score a try that could have swung the contest in their favour and, in Howarth’s exploits – the hooker who only signed from Hull FC nine days previously – showed they have plenty of spirit for the fight to avoid relegation.
“He did a fantastic job in the last eight to 10 minutes as he appears to have suffered some sort of serious injury to his arm or wrist,” explained Smith.
“He gutsed it out for us and it was very brave of him.
“He wasn’t at his most skilful best but he did occupy a position in our defensive line and never squibbed at it at any stage despite all the discomfort he was suffering from.
“I’d used up the last subs in an effort to try spark us to to get the points we needed and, to be fair, in the last five minutes I thought we could still have won it. But we just didn’t have the quality when we needed it.”
Trinity also lost prop Mickael Simon with a rib problem on the hour mark but it was before that, in the 50th minute, when the game truly ventured towards similarly desperate Salford who duly recorded a first league win in nine games.
Trailing 18-10, Wakefield winger Chris Riley had a try ruled out when he thought he had grounded the ball – and, just seconds later, Harrison Hansen scored his second for Salford to seal victory.
On that call, Smith said: “It was a long way from where I was – I’d need to see all that again.
“The end-on shot might show it was a try.
“But I think the touch judge is well positioned enough to give it.
“There was a couple of defining minutes; the first try they scored was from an obvious knock-on from their man – he dislodged the ball but the referee didn’t see it.
“We had our chances to get back and cover it up but on the following play we couldn’t get ourselves organised which was a shame.
“But two of the things we worked on this week we got a significant improvement in, and that was about our stick in the tackle.
“When we make the contact we need to stop bouncing away. We got an effective reward for the effort of making the tackle.
“There’s still plenty to work on and some disappointing aspects.
“But by and large it’s a solid improvement on where we were last week.”
It was never a game of much class. What would you expect from the competition’s bottom side against second-bottom played out mainly in drizzle?
The visitors just had that extra bit of class, with the likes of former Castleford Tigers and England star Rangi Chase and Hansen in their ranks, to eke out a win.
It was their first since Easter Monday, which will have relieved some pressure on their own coach Iestyn Harris, and, bizarrely, keep alive their hopes of the top eight.
All of which means, nine points adrift of the top eight and with just six regular fixtures remaining, Wakefield’s position in the Middle Eights is all but confirmed – and that, not this game, is where Smith will, in all honesty, really earn his money.
Transfer-listed Theo Fages opened the scoring for Salford in the ninth minute before Chase’s 40/20 saw Scott Taylor bundle over.
Ex-Trinity centre Josh Griffin improved both for an early 12-0 lead.
Daniel Smith hit back for Wakefield, Joe Arundel converting, only for Tim Smith’s kick to be charged down allowing Hansen his first try of the season.
Griffin made it 18-6 at the interval.
Then came that definitive moment with Riley, meaning even when impressive Wakefield captain Danny Kirmond surged over on the hour, that elusive victory still remained out of reach.
Wakefield Trinity Wildcats: Miller; Johnstone, Arundel, Ryan, Riley; Godinet, T Smith; Scruton, Howarth, Annakin, Washbrook, Kirmond, D Smith. Substitutes: McShane, Simon, Kirke, Kavanagh.
Salford Red Devils: Evalds; Caton-Brown, J Griffin, Sa’u, Johnson; Chase, Fages; Morley, Tomkins, Taylor, Paterson, J Walne, Hansen. Substitutes: Lannon, D Griffin, G Griffin, Walton.
Referee: Robert Hicks (Oldham).