Making Amends: After the hefty Cup defeat, Wakefield are keen to restore a little bit of pride when they take on Leeds on Friday. Peter Smith reports.
IT IS a giant challenge, but full-back Richard Mathers says Wakefield Trinity Wildcats have no choice but to get themselves up for Friday’s rematch with Leeds Rhinos.
The fourth-round draw for the Tetley’s Challenge Cup meant Leeds travelled to Wakefield just five days before the sides are due to meet again in First Utility Super League, at Headingley Carnegie.
And after a 60-6 Cup thrashing – when they picked up a series of injuries – it is a daunting task for Wakefield to even be competitive this week.
But now the Challenge Cup has gone, Super League survival is all Wildcats have left to fight for and with only four points separating them from the relegation zone, Friday is a crucial game.
According to Mathers, that means there is no time for Wildcats’ battered players to feel sorry for themselves and all their focus has to be on putting things right.
“We will have to get up for this week’s game, there is no other choice,” a defiant Mathers said. “Sunday was a game when we were chasing shadows sometimes.
“Credit to Leeds, they were really physical and they’ve got athleticism across the field and they can blow you apart, but we just weren’t good enough.
“We couldn’t match them and we could not slow them down. But as much as it’s disappointing, we can’t do anything about that now.
“We’ve got a five-day turnaround and we have got to crack on and look after our injuries and, more importantly, get over the pride issue.
“There’s no better place to try and restore a bit of pride than at Headingley. That’s what we will be playing for on Friday.”
Leeds were on top from the start of Sunday’s game, missing three good chances before Rob Burrow went over for their opening try after 18 minutes.
That sparked a spell of five touchdowns in just 13 minutes as Rhinos raced into a 32-6 interval lead, leaving Wildcats with nothing but damage limitation at stake in the second half.
Mathers admitted one of the most disappointing aspects from Wildcats’ point of view was the fact they had talked about how Leeds would play and what was needed to stop them, but were unable to carry it out.
“We spoke about controlling the ruck,” Mathers admitted. “The big thing for us was turning the ball over in the right places.
“You can’t kick poorly or come up with a lot of errors on plays one, two and three. With the speed they’ve got right across the park, if you do that you just end up defending your tryline all the time.
“Against most teams if you are low on energy it’s hard, but against a team like Leeds you just end up chasing shadows and that’s what we did.
“We didn’t turn the ball over in the right areas and we couldn’t back it up by defending and holding our line.”
These are tough times for Wildcats, who were beaten 44-6 at Hull KR in their latest Super League game and have therefore conceded 106 points in two matches, scoring only 12.
“We have to stay together,” Mathers insisted. “Last week wasn’t good enough and this (against Leeds) certainly wasn’t.
“The stark reality is you can’t dwell on what’s gone on before. You have to stick together and put some performances in. One week leads into the next and the fact of the matter is we need to get some wins on the board.”
In terms of expectations, the pressure will be off Wakefield on Friday night, but Mathers said the need to pick up league points is growing more urgent.
“Nobody will expect us to go there and win,” he conceded. “But the fact is we’ve got to do that. We have got to go into every game and win – every game we play in this year is massive.
“We have got to dust ourselves down. There will be some stern words and a bit of honesty in the group, which is something we’ve always prided ourselves on, but we have got to break the cycle sooner rather than later.”
Before their current slump Wakefield had won back-to-back matches, scoring 106 points in the process and that has given Mathers the belief they can get back on track.
He said: “We have definitely got the talent to turn things around. We just need to find a way that suits us.
“We can’t just have patches – we have been having 20 minutes here and 20 minutes there and that’s just not good enough, especially against teams like Leeds.
“We have certainly got the talent within the squad, but we have got to come up with a way to be tougher for longer, compete, turn the ball over in the right areas and do the not-so-flashy things that get you an opportunity to put some points on. It’s all about building blocks. It is not rocket science what we need to do, but we need to do it quick.”
Mathers was one of seven ex-Leeds players in the Wakefield side two days ago. Speaking of his old club, he said: “I thought they were outstanding.
“We gave the ball over really cheaply and I am looking internally at ourselves, but I guess Leeds were red hot.
“They have got strike from one to 13, literally. The halves were fantastic and their forwards were brilliant.They were big and powerful and they gave us a lesson.”