A PLAYER who began the season at their nearest and fiercest rivals and had been ruled out for the rest of the campaign came up with the last minute touchdown which confirmed Wakefield Trinity Wildcats’ top-flight survival.
Wildcats were clinging on to a two-point lead in the million pound match when Scott Moore, a late-season recruit from Castleford Tigers, caught the Bradford Bulls defence napping with a long-range scoot from acting-half.
The final hooter sounded before Jordan Tansey, another man salvaged from Castleford, could add his third goal to complete a 24-16 victory and ink Wildcats’ name on next year’s First Utility Super League fixture list.
It was Moore’s first appearance since he suffered a ruptured biceps in training for Wakefield’s game against Bradford in the Super-8s, in August. He had been told he wouldn’t play again this term, but returned four weeks early for the game Wildcats had, realistically, been preparing for all year.
“It was a telling moment when he came to us a couple of weeks ago and said ‘I’m way ahead of schedule in my rehab and I want to play’,” Wildcats coach Brian Smith reflected afterwards.
“For two weeks we’ve been tossing it up and talking it through with the surgeon. It was a great moment when he saw daylight. He knew it was the last play and we’ve talked about some of our last plays when we’ve been in front in games and how if you kick the ball sometimes you give the opposition a chance.
“So his thinking was ‘I’m just running to get tackled here’ – and he did. But thankfully he was over the line when he did it, which made it a bit of a fairytale really.”
So, despite winning just three times in Super League and losing four of their seven Qualifiers fixtures, the great escape artists have done it again. This was the fourth time since entering the competition in 1999 they have won their last game to avoid relegation.
Over the course of the year Wakefield were not Super League standard, but they were too good for Bulls, who now face a second season in the Kingstone Press Championship.
That said, Wakefield never do things the easy way and, after building a 12-0 lead early in the second half, the home team allowed Bradford to twice cut the gap to just two points.
Boss Smith’s main emotion afterwards was relief, rather than jubilation. He said: “It’s not a Champagne day, we’ve not won a trophy. We played a team who were desperate to get themselves out of the level they’ve been at and dump us back in it, but we managed to get there, despite everything.”
Over Smith’s four months at Wakefield, the club have had to deal with injuries and disciplinary issues, as well as key players leaving and others being brought in.
The coach hailed his players’ character and spirit and felt they rose to the occasion when it really mattered.
He said: “They’ve kept fighting for each other.
“We were well in front, but Bradford kept themselves in it to some extent and there were some other forces that kept them well and truly in the game, but our boys refused [to give in].
“When it got back to two points our boys found another gear and competed hard and I’ve got nothing but admiration for their character. They did a fantastic job for our club and themselves.
“We talked about it not being a day for consistency, but for being the best you can be, just for one day. We got heaps of PBs – and there’s all sorts of stories.
“There’s Scott Moore coming back from his biceps injury and Anthony Mullally is going to Leeds next year, he has got a fat contract and he didn’t have to put in like that for us, but he put himself out there.
“Tansey talked me into playing him this week, because he wanted to play that badly. I wasn’t going to pick him, but he talked me into it and he did a good job for us.”
Danny Kirmond’s 15th minute try, converted by Joe Arundel, gave Wakefield a 6-0 interval lead. Arundel also missed with a penalty, Bulls’ Matty Blythe and Danny Addy were denied tries by the video referees and Arundel had one chalked off for a forward pass.
Mullally crossed at the start of the second half, but tries by Danny Williams and Blythe and an Addy conversion made it 12-10 before Danny Washbrook went over.
Adrian Purtell crossed for a converted try in reply and Addy missed with a penalty attempt three minutes from time.
Pita Godinet snatched the ball from Dale Ferguson following the drop out and that led to Moore’s clinching score.
Beaten Bradford coach James Lowes has been critical all along of rugby league’s new structure and Smith described the split into three-eights – leading to the million pound game – as “thoroughly debilitating”.
He said: “It is almost impossible to talk about next season. The other eight clubs [those in the Super-8s, rather than the Qualifiers] have been able to have a running start.
“It is like going to the Olympics in the 400 metres and starting at the 450-metre mark.”
Smith insisted no decision has been made on whether he will be at Wakefield next season, but admitted the club needs “a complete rebuild” to have a chance of avoiding being in a similar position in 12 months’ time.
Wakefield Trinity Wildcats: Tansey, Lyne, Tupou, Arundel, Johnstone, Miller, Godinet, Scruton, Sio, Simon, Kirmond, Washbrook, Annakin. Subs (all used) Yates, Mullally, Moore, Lauitiiti.
Bradford Bulls: Mullaney, Williams, Purtell, Nielsen, Blythe, Gaskell, Siejka, Clough, O’Brien, Sidlow, Olbison, Ferguson, Addy. Subs (all used) Pitts. Baile, Crossley, Lauaki.
Referee: Richard Silverwood (Mirfield).