Wakefield Trinity v Warrington Wolves: Wembley provides the requisite motivation for underdog Trinity

Wildcats' Tom Johnstone has signed a new contract.
Wildcats' Tom Johnstone has signed a new contract.
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GIVEN his history in the Ladbrokes Challenge Cup, Wakefield Trinity Wildcats head coach Chris Chester knows only too well anything is possible.

He was, of course, part of the heroic Hull FC side that famously stunned Leeds Rhinos during the final moments of the 2005 showpiece in Cardiff.

Wildcats' Danny Kirmond takes on Hull's Liam Watts. (Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe)

Wildcats' Danny Kirmond takes on Hull's Liam Watts. (Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe)

Last year, though, Chester felt the other side of that when, as Hull KR chief, he was on the end of a sobering, embarrassing and record 50-0 defeat by Leeds at Wembley.

Nevertheless, ahead of today’s semi-final with Warrington Wolves – who offer Trinity a 14- point start with some bookmakers – he will recollect happier memories from 12 months ago.

To get to Wembley back then, his unfancied Rovers side significantly upset the odds to defeat the same opponents, beating Warrington 26-18 at Headingley despite being in wretched form beforehand.

Wakefield – whose star winger Tom Johnstone has signed a new deal until the end of 2020 – have won just one of their four Super League games since overcoming Huddersfield Giants in the last eight and were hammered 46-20 at home to Castleford Tigers on Sunday, meaning the similarities are not lost on Chester.

“We’re pretty much going in in similar circumstances to what I did with Rovers,” said the Wakefield-born 37-year-old.

“I remember last year we had a tough and disappointing derby defeat at home (to Hull FC) and the week before the semi-final we went to St Helens and got thumped by 50-odd points.

“It’s a similar situation to these last few weeks; we’ve not been great.

“Warrington have been consistent all year and certainly they’re the form team.

“We have to improve a hell of a lot if we are to give them a challenge on Saturday.

“But the good thing about this group is we’ve bounced back after a poor performance this season.

“And we’re 80 minutes away from Wembley; that should be enough motivation for our players.”

That is particularly true given the West Yorkshire club have not been to the final for fully 37 years and, furthermore, not lifted the famous trophy for longer still, since the iconic days of Neil Fox in 1963.

Wakefield certainly have the ability to pull off a shock; they have defeated Warrington, Wigan Warriors and Leeds in the league already this season.

But they will have to deliver probably their best performance to date to see off hungry opponents who, for all they have had recent success in the Challenge Cup, have lost at this stage in each of the last two seasons.

However, there was a clear calm around Trinity on the eve of this game.

“There’s not much pressure on the guys – not as much as this time last year – now our status in Super League is secure,” said Chester, Wakefield only surviving then after beating Bradford Bulls in the Million Pound Match, but now enjoying no such jeopardy having finished in the top eight.

“We didn’t want the players going into this game worrying about their futures,” he added, Trinity having confirmed they would avoid the dreaded Qualifiers only last week.

“You could tell after the Hull derby game (Hull’s win nine days ago meant Wakefield could not be caught by Hull KR in eighth) that the pressure had been lifted from them.

“The very next day we saw that and it’s given everyone a massive boost.

“We’re looking forward to the game now and giving a very good account of ourselves.”

On the subject of “boost”, the sound of Trinity captain Danny Kirmond declaring his fitness for this afternoon’s game at Leigh Sports Village is as big as they come.

The influential second-row has been missing since suffering a freak knee infection in mid-June but will play today and lift Wakefield immeasurably.

“We hoped he’d play last week but he just wasn’t quite ready,” explained Chester.

“It’s a huge boost not just for the club but for Kirmo, too.

“We’ve missed his leadership not just on the field, but off it.

“He’s been training on his own and spent fair bit of time in hospital but has got through the other end now and that’s great as he’s played in some big games.

“We’ll be drawing on his experience the same as Liam Finn who’s played in a Challenge Cup final and Scott Anderson and Anthony Tupou who have done so overseas as well.

“Ben Jones-Bishop has played in Grand Finals, Challenge Cup finals and a World Club Challenge with Leeds so we’ve got some experience there and we’ve prepared well.”

Warrington sit second in the Super League table and have some world-class operators such as Australian half-backs Kurt Gidley and Chris Sandow.

But Chester said: “The key is the first 20 minutes.

“Warrington are a team that can put you under a hell of a lot of pressure; they get out of the blocks very, very quick.

“We have to start quicker (today).

“That’s exactly what did in the league at home and had a very good start scoring 20 points in the first 25 minutes.

“We then gave them a leg up when we lost a couple of players to yellow cards but were deserved winners in the end.

“We’ll try to contain those halves whose game management is second to none but we have to put pressure on them and stop their go-forward.

“More than anything, we can’t afford to let this opportunity pass us by.”

Meanwhile, Johnstone’s decision to sign a new contract should end rumours he was set to join one of Wakefield’s more illustrious rivals.

The 20-year-old shot to 
prominence last term but, in his first full season, has improved further, scoring 16 tries in 21 appearances.

Johnstone, who came through Trinity’s academy, was already contracted to the end of 2018 but has now signed a new four-and-a-half-year deal.