WAKEFIELD TRINITY Wildcats are doing a reverse Leeds Rhinos.
While last year’s treble-winners have dropped like a stone, Wakefield – Super League’s whipping boys in 2015 – have become one of the competition’s form teams.
Yesterday’s 36-28 win over table-topping Warrington Wolves at Belle Vue was their eighth in nine league and cup games since Chris Chester took over as coach before Easter.
It was a remarkable performance by Wildcats and edged them a step closer to securing a place in the Super-8s.
They climbed two places to sixth and are now five points ahead of Hull KR, who are ninth and only four adrift of fourth-placed St Helens.
The top-four is surely a step too far, but Wakefield are still improving and currently one of the best teams to watch in the competition.
Wildcats showed two sides to their character. They produced a fine attacking display in the first 44 minutes, opening a 30-6 lead and then dug deep in the face of a powerful Warrington fightback.
The visitors cut the gap to just four points with seven minutes remaining and seemed likely winners at that stage, but Ben Jones-Bishop touched down Max Jowitt’s kick two minutes from time to seal a deserved win.
Jones-Bishop was sin-binned for holding down Jordan Cox just before Warrington’s fourth try. Anthony England and Warrington’s Kurt Gidley were yellow carded for fighting with 11 minutes left and Wakefield captain Danny Kirmond was banished for tripping Morgan Smith four minutes from time.
Wakefield’s scrambling defence in the second half was outstanding, Jones-Bishop keeping Kevin Penny out just before his clinching touchdown.
Joe Arundel did brilliantly to tackle Ben Currie into touch and Wakefield also had some luck when Daryl Clark knocked on with the line open and Currie’s pass which sent Penny over was ruled forward.
Wakefield were the better team for most of the game and full value for the victory. They led 12-0 after seven minutes, Craig Hall crossing from Max Jowitt’s pass and Jacob Miller setting up the outstanding Matty Ashurst with a lovely pass in front of the posts.
Joe Westerman pulled a try back for Warrington, converted by Gidley.
But Hall intercepted a Ben Westwood pass to score his second and then did the same to Gidley before linking with Ashurst, who had Tom Johnstone in support.
The half-time lead of 24-6 was increased when Miller put Ashurst in again soon afterwards and Liam Finn landed his fifth goal.
At that stage Wakefield were in total command, but Warrington are top of the table for a reason.
Inspired by Clark, Warrington hit back with three tries in six minutes, through the former Castleford hooker, Gidley and Matty Russell, the last from a penalty after Jones-Bishop had seen yellow, Gidley converting them all.
Finn booted a penalty before England – a former Warrington player – and Gidley were yellow carded for fighting, an incident which led to Joe Westerman going over for his second touchdown from the subsequent penalty.
That was converted by Warrington’s outstanding 18-year-old substitute, Morgan Smith, an ex-Leeds under-16s stand-off who also provided the final passes for Russell and Westerman’s second on his Super League debut.
When Kirmond was sin-binned Warrington seemed to have the momentum, but Jones-Bishop’s clinching try was no more than Wakefield deserved.
Referee Chris Campbell, a former Warrington player, was making his Super League debut and generally handled the game well.
Wakefield Trinity Wildcats: Jowitt, Jones-Bishop, Hall, Arundel, Johnstone, Miller, Finn, Scruton, Sio, Simon, Kirmond, Ashurst, Arona. Subs Anderson, Annakin, England, A Tupou.
Warrington Wolves: Russell, Penny, Evans, Atkins, Lineham, Gidley, Currie, Hill, Clark, Sims, Jullien, Westwood, Westerman. Subs Cox, Philbin, King, Smith.
Referee: Chris Campbell (Warrington).