THE old joke had been doing the rounds for most of the week.
Anyone suggesting they were heading to Belle Vue last night, to maybe witness a Challenge Cup shock, was met with the response: “What, Wakefield beating Halifax?”
Wakefield Trinity Wildcats, of course, are the full-time professionals of Super League, their West Yorkshire rivals being the part-time players operating in the lower level Championship.
However, when you have lost eight successive games – as James Webster’s deflated squad had done heading into this fifth-round tie, including a record-equalling 80-0 hammering at Warrington a week ago – you understand the gist of why defeat for the top-flight’s bottom team would have been no huge surprise.
Thankfully for the hosts, they arrested that alarming slump and breathed some life into their season, picking up a first win since defeating Hull KR on February 15 and securing their place in Monday’s last-16 draw.
They did so with help from first-half tries from winger Richard Owen (2) and Daniel Smith, some class from Craig Hall and an unlikely brace from debutant Ian Kirke, but it was far from simple against able and committed opponents.
Indeed, it was not until full-back Hall shimmied through in the 62nd minute to make it 28-16 that suffering Trinity fans could truly settle.
The competitive nature of the contest meant he had already felt the need to take a penalty kick on the half-time hooter to secure a slightly less worrying 18-10 interval lead and the way Halifax – fourth in the Championship – started the second period it seemed a prescient decision.
Richard Marshall’s side will rue missed opportunities then to take a firmer grip.
Instead, after Chris Riley had dropped the wily Scott Murrell’s high kick to present ex-Trinity winger Gareth Potts with a 48th-minute try, Murrell’s touchline kick bringing it back to 18-16, they immediately erred.
Andy Bracek fumbled in the restart set and Riley atoned for his mistake as he profited from some great Ali Lauitiiti footwork, and Trinity, imbued with confidence, never really looked back.
Webster said: “Even when they got close in the second period I wouldn’t say I was worried as my thought pattern always was that it’d be a six-, eight-, maybe 10-point game.
“I thought Halifax were outstanding. They competed well and it was no fluke they played like that.
“They are a good team with a heap of Super League players and some others they didn’t even pick.
“But we’ve made some strides (last night).
“We understand we’ve still got some more strides to make but we’re really looking forward to making them.
“I’m pleased for the players. Their intensity this week improved; the mindset was we’re going to defend harder and they made a dramatic improvement on last Saturday.
“Hopefully it will help us kick on in Super League.”
Owen got the first of his double with a strong finish in the 11th minute, but Jacob Miller dropped Murrell’s hanging kick soon after for James Saltonstall to reply, Murrell converting for the lead.
Hall broke Rikki Sheriffe’s tackle on 20 minutes to provide Owen’s second, Hall kicking the first of his six goals, only for some fine footwork from Ben Heaton seeing the Halifax centre elude Joe Arundel for another visiting try to level.
Trinity nudged in front when Smith powered over, Hall improving and then adding that penalty to leave it finely balanced for a period, at least.
Marshall, though, was rightly pleased with his squad’s efforts, hooker Ben Kaye making his 150th career appearance and former Hull KR scrum-half Murrell “outstanding”.
They will hope to face Wakefield again in the middle eight Qualifiers at the end of the regular season and, after competing at Belle Vue for an hour, he said: “That’s probably been a little bit the story of our season.
“We’ve been in with a chance of winning most of our games this year and there was no difference here.
“The full-time result didn’t give a fair reflection of the guys’ efforts as we did go toe-to-toe with a Super League outfit so there’s lots of positives.
“But two-thirds of our side worked (yesterday) – they’ve been on roofs and cleaning windows – and, if I’m honest, that’s probably what got us is in the end.
“We can’t train or prepare the same as a full-time team but we know we have a good side and have to do it for 80 minutes now,” he added.
Their next chance to do that will be against top-four rivals Sheffield Eagles a week tomorrow, but Wakefield are thrown straight back into the intensity of their fight at the wrong end of Super League with Thursday’s televised visit – from Wigan Warriors.
Wakefield Trinity Wildcats: Hall; Owen, Ryan, Arundel, Riley; Miller, T Smith; Scruton, McShane, Simon, Lauitiiti, Kirmond, Washbrook. Substitutes: D Smith, Molloy, Kirke, Trout.
Halifax: Saltonstall: Potts, Heaton, Sheriffe, Brown; Taylor, Murrell; Cahalane, Kaye, Ambler, Divorty, Manning, Moore. Substitutes: Tangata, Bracek, Spencer, Maneely.
Referee: J Cobb (Manchester).