AFTER thinking his season was ended, relieved Wakefield Trinity Wildcats prop Andy Raleigh is relishing the chance to repeat history.
The former Huddersfield Giants front-row was a leading force in Trinity’s remarkable surge last season when they won their final seven games to edge into the play-off places on the final weekend.
With five matches to go, they are better placed to do so this time – eighth-placed Hull FC were just a point ahead going into this round of fixtures – and he believes that previous experience could prove crucial.
“You can certainly draw upon that knowing we can do it,” said Raleigh, who feared his campaign could be over due to a cheekbone injury suffered in defeat at Leeds Rhinos a fortnight ago.
“We’ve a very similar team to last year and we’re still aiming for the eight.
“If we play consistently well, working as hard as we have been, we’re in with a chance.
“Our performances have not been terrible. We played the champions Leeds in the last two games and were perhaps unfortunate not to come away with at least one win.
“We know from last year, though, that when we’re under the pump we can pull out the performance. Hopefully, we can do it again.”
Wakefield coach Richard Agar has likened the three-way tussle between Trinity, Hull and tomorrow’s visitors Bradford Bulls to a football penalty shoot-out with five games to go and everyone hoping not to miss a single shot.
His side do have a tough schedule, however, with trips to Warrington Wolves and Huddersfield who are both fighting for the League Leaders’ Shield plus home games with revitalised St Helens and derby rivals Castleford Tigers.
Raleigh accepts tomorrow’s game is effectively must-win for both – Bradford will rise above their opponents if they fail – but they have taken plenty of positives from twice pushing Leeds so close, losing by an aggregate of just nine points.
Admittedly, Wakefield feel frustrated at not garnering at least two points from those back-to-back fixtures which would have ushered them up into eighth last week. However, that is a sign of the high standards Trinity are now setting themselves.
Raleigh, 32, hopes to finish with the same flourish as last term when his tireless performances up front earned him the club’s player of the year award after joining from Huddersfield.
“The last thing I wanted was a season-ending injury so I was glad the cheekbone wasn’t as bad as first feared,” he said.
“At the time, it swelled up so much and it was numb so the doctor was careful and took precautions. Nothing showed up with the X-rays, though, and it’s just healed with a bit of a lump.
“It’s good to be still playing. I’ve had a couple of injuries this year but feel like I’m getting back to playing well.
“I didn’t miss any of last year through injury and I think I’m getting back to that form now.”
It seems an eternity since Bradford thrashed Wakefield on the opening day of the campaign, inflicting a 40-6 defeat at Odsal with a dominant display that promised so much for Francis Cummins’s side.
Of course, their West Yorkshire neighbours have struggled for consistency since a bright spring and, in fact, their last performance against Hull brought only a second win in 11 outings.
Bradford have also been hit with more off-the-field problems this week with players’ wages being delayed, although owner Omar Khan has since stepped in with his own cash injection to allay fears at Odsal.
“At the start of the season, I couldn’t see them getting beaten the way they were playing,” said Raleigh.
“They were on fire and do have a good side with some quality players. They play real fast around the ruck and trying to control that is key for us.
“They have a lot of dummy-half runs with their back three while the big fellas up front try to get quick play the balls and it’s difficult to win it back when they get a roll on you. On the back of that, Jarrod Sammut can pull out anything on his day and Brett Kearney’s dangerous, too.
“There’s things going on there out of their control but, if anything, it will spur them on to play well together.
“Being professional, it shouldn’t affect them but it will definitely make them tighter and that makes it tougher for us. We’re just going to worry about getting our own performance right, though.”
Wakefield are bolstered by the return of captain Danny Kirmond, who missed last week’s 31-24 loss after an adverse reaction to a pre-match painkilling injection in his knee.
Agar has also brought in young centre Danny Cowling at the expense of Matty Wildie as he looks for more attacking options in the absence of broken leg victim Paul Sykes.
Meanwhile, Bradford are without highly-rated back-row Jon Bateman, who injured an ankle against Hull, so James Donaldson is set for a return while teenagers Sam Wood and Adam O’Brien are added to the 19-man squad with Michael Platt (hamstring) out.