AN EYE-CATCHING debut by teenager Jack Croft gave Wakefield Trinity boss Chris Chester something to smile about after his team were dumped out of the Coral Challenge Cup.
Drawn away to Cup favourites and runaway Betfred Super League leaders St Helens, the quarter-final task could not have been tougher for Trinity.
Yet another spate of injuries made it almost an impossibility, but the positive from that was a call up for 19-year-old centre Croft.
It was a baptism of fire, but the youngster came through unscorched, scoring a try with his first touch in senior rugby and looking completely at home.
With another academy player, Lee Kershaw, playing on the other flank and also doing well, Chester could be relatively upbeat after his team’s 48-10 exit.
He said: “We are disappointed, but there’s quite a few positives to take out of it.
“We have unearthed a young kid who didn’t look out of place in the left-centre.
“He had one session with us before the game, the team run and I thought he was excellent.
“He has been excellent for the under-19s and he is a really good talent.
“Junior Sa’u [who was Cup-tied] will be available against Leeds on Friday, but where do you put him after Jack Croft’s unbelievable performance on that left-edge?
“I was delighted for young Crofty and Lee Kershaw didn’t look out of place either.
“He defended well and carried the ball well.”
Croft’s try levelled the scores moments after Lachlan Coote had crossed to give St Helens the lead at the end of their first set in possession and booted the first of his five conversions.
Danny Brough, returning from a broken thumb, added the extras to Croft’s touchdown and Trinity were only 8-6 adrift, Coote having booted a penalty, at the end of the first quarter.
But then Saints’ class, speed and power up the middle began to take its toll on Trinity’s gallant, but outgunned defence.
Tommy Makinson and Morgan Knowles went over before Trinity’s Ryan Hampshire was sin-binned for a professional foul, stripping the ball out after a try-saving tackle on Knowles.
Coote took the two from the ball-steal penalty, Regan Grace crossed from Zeb Taia’s offload and then Coote booted his third penalty of the half to make it 26-6 at the break.
A try 10 minutes afterwards, Tyler Randell running through to touch down Brough’s kick, gave Trinity a glimmer of hope which lasted until 19 minutes from time when Taia zipped over from Joseph Paulo’s pass.
After that Taia and Coote combined to create a try for Mark Percival, Jonny Lomax finished off good work by Taia and Kevin Naiqama completed the scoring, off Coote’s pass, in the 76th minute.
Chester felt his side “didn’t deserve that scoreline”, but had no complaints about the outcome.
“We knew we were facing an uphill battle coming up against a St Helens team that are flying at the moment,” he admitted.
“Having said that, I thought – on the whole – we did okay considering the players we’ve got sat on the sidelines.
“The big turning point was going down to 12 men, off the back of attacking their line.
“Then for nine or 10 minutes we didn’t touch the ball.
“Against Saints you need your full complement of players – they are a very good set and they are red hot at the minute, but we can be positive with some aspects of it.”
Chester felt Trinity made too many errors and “chance our arm a bit too much”, but stressed: “You are never going to beat Saints by going set for set with them. You’ve got to try and move them around a bit.
“I thought we did that for the first 10 or 15 minutes in both halves, but there’s not many teams stopping them when they are attacking like that.
“It was one of those days, unfortunately and the best team won, which I can cop as a coach.”
Trinity are now left to concentrate on claiming a Super League play-off spot.
“We can refocus now on what we want to achieve,” Chester added.
“We spoke all pre-season about getting involved in a semi-final or final; the Challenge Cup is out of the way now so the big focus has got to be making sure we get in that top-five.
“We have certainly got the squad capable, but we’ve got to get some bodies back.”
Bill Tupou and Joe Arundel could be available within the next two weeks, but Danny Kirmond will miss Friday’s game due to concussion and Matty Ashurst (back) and Tyler Randell (ankle) also picked up knocks against Saints.
Max Jowitt (hand), Mason Caton-Brown (stomach), David Fifita (foot) and James Batchleor (knee) all missed the Cup tie after being injured against Catalans Dragons the week before.
St Helens: Coote, Makinson, Naiqama, Percival, Grace, Lomax, Richardson, Walmsley, Roby, Thompson, Taia, Peyroux, Knowles. Subs Paulo, Lees, Ashworth, McCarthy-Scarsbrook.
Wakefield Trinity: Hampshire, Kershaw, Lyne, Croft, Jones-Bishop, Miller, Brough, England, Randell, Kopczak, Kirmond, Ashurst, Tanginoa. Subs Crowther, Wood, King, Hirst.
Referee: Chris Kendall (Huddersfield).