IN fairness, Brian Smith did always say his rescue plan at Wakefield Trinity Wildcats could take time.
The Australian coach took charge of his first game yesterday and, though his team were clearly competitive, he was powerless to prevent a 15th successive Super League defeat.
It was never a game of much class, what would you expect from the competition’s bottom side against second-bottom and with Salford having lost eight consecutive league games themselves, and amid regular drizzle?
The visitors just had that extra bit of class, with the likes of former Castleford Tigers and England star Rangi Chase and Harrison Hansen in their ranks, to eke out a win.
It was their first since Easter Monday, which will have relieved some pressure on their own coach Iestyn Harris, and, bizarrely, keep alive their hopes of the top eight.
That said, Wakefield – whose margin of defeat was their smallest in the league since the 24-18 defeat at Salford in February – will point to a key moment in the 50th minute which could have turned the contest.
Trailing 18-10, half-backs Tim Smith and the impressive Pita Godinet combined smartly to create space down the left for Matt Ryan to feed Chris Riley.
The former Warrington Wolves winger squeezed over in the corner under pressure from Greg Johnson but, after great deliberation between the officials, they decided he had not grounded correctly.
It was a debatable call. Crucially, though, Trinity’s opponents crossed at the other end barely 60 seconds later via Hansen’s second try to create a 14-point lead that, despite Wakefield’s obvious spirit, would always be enough to secure this triumph.
All of which means, nine points adrift of the top eight and with just six regular fixtures remaining, their position in the Middle Eights is all but confirmed – and that, not this game, is where Brian Smith will, in all honesty, really earn his money.
His side started positively but conceded against the run of play in the ninth minute when a dropped ball in Salford’s 20 saw the visitors go almost the length of the field.
Danny Kirmond did brilliantly to track back and drag down Niall Evalds but Salford swiftly moved the ball to the left where Theo Fages scrambled over.
Josh Griffin added the first of his four kicks and, soon after, his side he were in again.
Chase’s 40/20 set up the position but Trinity’s defence was poor as prop Scott Taylor barged over from dummy-half between the posts.
Trailing 12-0 inside just 15 minutes could have spelled disaster for the hosts but they responded quickly to ensure there was no customary avalanche conceded.
Tim Smith attacked the line and sent namesake Daniel twisting over from close range for Joe Arundel to improve.
Kirmond desperately clung on to Josh Griffin to prevent a third Salford try but it was not long before that arrived.
Tim Smith’s attempted long kick was charged down by former Hull KR second-row Cory Paterson and Hansen benefitted as he picked up and managed to make the 20m to the line.
More errors came from both sides – Paul McShane coughed up cheaply and Joe Arundel passed into touch for Trinity while Chase fumbled after being clattered by Matt Ryan.
Tim Smith almost created a chance for Danny Washbrook but even the usually reliable back-row found himself spilling at the crucial moment.
However, they did find some cohesion when – after a darting Godinet was blocked chasing his chip – Tim Smith combined to find Ian Kirke, the former Leeds Rhinos prop making his return from a broken thumb.
Arundel could not convert but Trinity forced more pressure when McShane’s grubber rebounded off a post and Chase was sacked behind his own line.
McShane, however, took a bad last play option by trying to burrow over unsuccessfully and then came that critical point when Riley saw his effort disallowed and Hansen got his second.
Kirmond responded on the hour to give them hope when he swatted aside Fages and crawled over for Arundel to make it 24-16.
But, from thereon in, Trinity failed to muster the required response and Salford held on.
Wakefield Trinity Wildcats: Miller; Johnstone, Arundel, Ryan, Riley; Godinet, T Smith; Scruton, Howarth, Annakin, Washbrook, Kirmond, D Smith. Substitutes: McShane, Simon, Kirke, Kavanagh.
Salford Red Devils: Evalds; Caton-Brown, J Griffin, Sa’u, Johnson; Chase, Fages; Morley, Tomkins, Taylor, Paterson, J Walne, Hansen. Substitutes: Lannon, D Griffin,G Griffin, Walton.
Referee: R Hicks (Oldham).