CHRIS CHESTER admits his Wakefield Trinity Wildcats side must rediscover the winning habit today or it could affect their bid for a first Wembley final in 37 years.
They head to Perpignan to face Catalans Dragons in far different shape to when they last met.
Since memorably beating the French side with Jacob Miller’s monster late drop goal at Magic Weekend in May, extending a brilliant run under head coach Chester’s command, Wakefield have won just one of six subsequent Super League games.
With a Challenge Cup semi-final versus Warrington Wolves on the horizon at the end of this month, there is a pressing need to find, once more, some of their old vigour.
Granted, Catalans have lost their killer touch, too, Sunday’s 38-24 loss at Castleford proving to be a fourth successive defeat for a side deemed title candidates and one which hints their top-four place might not be as assured as once presumed.
“You could say it’s a good time to play them on the back of that run,” offered Chester.
“They rested quite a few players at Cas last week, though, and we’re expecting to face a totally different side to the one that played there.
“But we’re not far away. We’re happy with the way we’re going and still have a lot of confidence.
“We’re just looking forward to this Catalans game now and trying to get a bit of momentum heading into the semi.
“Hopefully, we’ll put a few wrongs right.”
One of those ‘wrongs’ was losing 22-18 in the very final seconds at Wigan last Friday when the West Yorkshire club had seemed certain to make their high-flying hosts pay for having England captain Sean O’Loughlin red-carded in the 38th minute.
However, they conceded to suffer late heartache and leave their own top-eight hopes in the balance a little longer.
“It’s disappointing to come away from there with nothing and lose in the manner we did,” conceded ex-Hull KR chief Chester, who played for Wigan between 1999 and 2001.
“Yes, they were down to 12 men but when you look at their team they also had internationals across the park.
“We had a lot of injuries and were down to one genuine front-row at one point in David Fifita.”
Despite that result, Wakefield, who finished bottom last year and were hanging around there again when Chester took over in mid-March, have since seen their top-flight safety secured.
Ironically, Hull KR, who sacked him in February, were the only club who could usurp them from the top eight.
However, they lost to Hull FC on Thursday and cannot now catch Trinity, who only survived relegation last year via the trauma of the ‘Million-Pound Game’ win versus Bradford Bulls.
Chester, who oversaw nine wins from his first 10 games, added: “It’s great for the players and I’m really pleased for them but I do actually think we deserve to be in the top eight.
“We’ve done enough over the course of the year and dug ourselves out of a big hole.
“The guys have done a fantastic job while Michael (Carter) and Chris (Brearton) have done likewise off the pitch, so I feel we do warrant that place.”
They have not won at Stade Gilbert Brutus since 2011 but are bolstered by a raft of players returning from injury in their 19-man squad, including captain Danny Kirmond and vice-captain Nick Scruton.
“We’ve got Scrutes and some ‘middles’ back in the side, some extra experience there, like Mickael Simon,” said Chester.
“Potentially, we could see Kirmo and Anthony Tupou, too, so that’s four senior guys back.
“That gives us some strength in there and a bit of grunt as well to follow Dave Fifita and Tinirau Arona.”
Catalans, meanwhile, have lost Richie Myler, Gregory Mounis and Thomas Bosc from the side that fell at Castleford but, as Chester suggested, they welcome back former Australia internationals Todd Carney and Willie Mason plus Jason Baitieri and prolific winger Pat Richards.