IT HASN’T been an easy pre-season for Wakefield Trinity Wildcats.
Firstly, there was the departure of a host of key players as the rugby budget was slashed.
Then visa delays led to the late arrival of three overseas recruits, other players missed pre-season matches due to injury and an important trial game – at home to Huddersfield Giants – was washed out.
And finally, just three weeks before their opening home fixture, the club announced a cut in capacity at Rapid Solicitors Stadium to just 5,333 because of safety concerns.
Coach Richard Agar admitted Wildcats have had “some curve balls thrown at us”, but he insisted – despite the threat of relegation for the bottom two this year – the prospects for Super League’s great survivors are not as bleak as they may seem.
Wildcats are being tipped by many pundits as near certainties for the drop, but Agar is confident he has pulled together a squad tough and good enough to hold its own this year.
And he points to 2012 when Wildcats’ side was put together at late notice, but stormed into the top-eight thanks to wins in each of their final seven league games.
“I feel we are at a stronger starting point than we were two years ago,” Agar insisted.
“We have been through this before and it may be that we evolve and find a better style of playing as the season goes on and we get to know each other a bit more.”
Relegation may be on the media’s agenda, but it isn’t a word being mentioned in the Wakefield camp, according to the coach.
“We will let other people talk about that,” he stated. “We know a lot of people will have us down – because of what’s happened in the off-season – as a team that’s going to be very much in the mix.
“But I have heard that for the last two years. Everybody is entitled to their opinion, but we won’t concern ourselves with any of that.
“We will concentrate on being as strong and consistent a team as we possibly can and trying to find our best style and best way of football, that’s going to win us as many games as we possibly can.
“We’re not making any predictions, but we are obviously looking at getting the right level of consistency that’s going to get us enough wins to not be talked about as a relegation side.”
With their three imports waiting for visa clearance, Wildcats postponed a pre-season training camp planned for last month, before eventually heading for a few days in north Wales last week. Pita Godinet, Scott Anderson and Matt Ryan eventually arrived on Monday.
The camp was used as specific preparation for Wildcats’ intriguing start to the campaign, away to big-spending Salford Red Devils before a home game against another cash-strapped club, Bradford Bulls.
Even before a pass has been thrown, the derby with Bulls, in front of the Sky TV cameras on Thursday, February 20, looks like being a key game. Agar, though, is aware it is a long year and he warned what happens in the opening weeks of the season won’t necessarily be an indication of how it is going to finish.
“It is always nice to get out of the traps quickly and get a bit of confidence,” Agar said. “But the season lasts 27 rounds and I have been in different situations throughout my career. A couple of years ago we didn’t start great and it was about the half-way point when we hit our straps and we made the eight that year.
“We want to do that quicker this time and I certainly think we are capable of that, but at the same time, it is about keeping your nerve and being consistent over the 27 rounds. I think if we do that we will be looking at the right end of where we want to finish, rather than the wrong end.”