WAKEFIELD Trinity Wildcats captain Danny Kirmond reckons critics are being lazy tipping his side to finish bottom of Super League this season.
The West Yorkshire club are perennially touted as potential wooden spoonists, more so now that the competition has been reduced from 14 clubs to 12.
Obviously, on the eve of their opener at Castleford Tigers tomorrow, the stakes are higher given the threat of relegation opens up to the entire bottom four under the new format.
Wakefield finished 12th last term, just above London Broncos and Bradford Bulls who went down. However, second-row Kirmond told The Yorkshire Post: “We’ve really strengthened this time.
“That’s why it’s kind of surprising people have written us off at the start of the year.
“Last year we weren’t too far away and we’ve really strengthened; Craig Hall has got that X factor about him and is real skilful.
“He’ll probably score lots of points for us especially if he nails down that full-back slot.
“We’ve really shored up the middle of the field, too, by bringing in Lopini Paea and Mickael Simon from Catalans, two big guys who carry the ball very tough.
“And we’ve added some real good depth with people like Matty Ashurst who’s a young guy but who’s played a lot of games.”
Being dismissed so easily could irritate Trinity but Kirmond added: “I don’t think it annoys us as it doesn’t shock us at all.
“It’s the same every year. We get tipped to finish bottom and we kind of like being underdogs. We’re used to it.
“In rugby league, if you get tipped by a couple it kind of spreads and then everyone tips you but it doesn’t bother us.
“Some people might use it as a bit more motivation but I don’t need any more than knowing if we’re not in that top eight we‘re in the bottom four and in a battle.”
However, he believes Trinity, who have also recruited five-time Grand Final winner Ian Kirke from Leeds Rhinos, will fare better as James Webster has had a full pre-season in which to work.
The Australian was promoted from assistant to replace head coach Richard Agar last June and Kirmond conceded: “It was probably difficult taking over from Rich as he couldn’t change much mid-season.
“But now Webbo’s added quite a lot of new stuff and his own touches and it seems to be working with the players we’ve got.
“Getting our scrum-half Tim Smith in from the start after he returned on loan halfway through last year, has really helped and Webbo’s already done well fitting into that head coach slot.
“We’ve always been a good attacking team in the last couple of years. Any team will say we’re dangerous there.
“But we’ve really worked hard in defence this time and know it’s an area to improve in; you can’t have the ball the whole game.”
Their defence was certainly tested last term by derby rivals Castleford who, on the way to their best ever Super League finish of fourth, hammered Trinity 43-20 at Belle Vue and, again, 50-12 at Magic Weekend.
It was far tighter by the time Webster took control, Wakefield losing out narrowly 26-22 at Wheldon Road in September.
Upon their return to that ground, Kirmond admitted: “This doesn’t take much warming up for being a massive local derby.
“Cas did give us a couple of stuffings last year and we’re hurting a bit from that still.
“We’re really excited about going over there. Cas obviously went really well last year, getting to Wembley, too, and they have got to now try and emulate that,” he said.
“Anything less will probably be disappointing.
“They’ll go in as favourites and we know it will be tough but it’s going to be important for us to start well this year.”
Wakefield field new signings Simon, Paea, Hall and Jacob Miller – but the game has come too soon for two other recruits, Kirke and Ashurst as they continue their rehabilitation from injury.