IT is not often Wakefield Trinity are actually expected to fare well in a Super League season but, now they are, head coach Chris Chester is confident his squad can handle the subsequent pressure.
For so long, and for various reasons, the West Yorkshire club has regularly been deemed one of the favourites for relegation or the competition’s wooden spoon.
Traditionally, they are not one of the biggest spenders, often they have seen their star players snaffled up by others and, of course, there has been numerous dalliances with administration and other financial issues, all of which have done little for improving stability.
However, under the astute stewardship of chairman Michael Carter, and Chester’s marked impact, they are clearly making progress both on and off the field.
Trinity made the top-eight last term, enjoying a renaissance having been bottom at Easter, former Hull KR chief Chester transforming their fortunes after Brian Smith quit in March.
Although the Super 8s were a struggle – they never stood a chance of reaching the top-four – Wakefield did make the Challenge Cup semi-finals, too, and have since made some excellent signings that strengthens them further for 2017.
With experienced former coach John Kear back from Batley Bulldogs as director of rugby, too, there are ample reasons why people are tipping Trinity to enjoy more success this time around. “In terms of what we’ve got squad-wise, this is the best we’ve had for a long, long time,” said Chester, with four new recruits – Huddersfield Giants trio Craig Huby, Kyle Wood and Scott Grix plus Canberra Raiders stand-off Sam Williams – all set to debut against visiting Hull FC in tomorrow’s opening game.
“Obviously that adds a bit of pressure. The expectation is a bit higher than last year, but we’ve got confidence in this group of players. We feel we have done the right things in pre-season and can’t wait to get out there for the first game.
“We are healthy. Mitch Allgood has a head knock so he is out but we didn’t pick up any other injuries in the friendlies and are going into the season strong.”
Chester has impressed on his side how important it is to begin the campaign well.
They benefitted from a remarkable run of wins last term to rescue them from their woeful start under Smith but it is unlikely they would enjoy such a prolific sequence again.
“It is crucial to start well – you never want to be chasing your tails,” added the 38-year-old, who hails from the city and supported the club as a child.
“Wakefield have been renown as slow starters, but we’re hopeful we can get off to a good start and what a good first outing it is for us in front of a packed crowd at the Beaumont Legal Stadium.
“We feel we are ready. We feel we’ve done okay in pre-season. The boys have worked really hard, we feel we’ve the right mix and blend of talent this year in the squad and we’ve got some really good depth there.
“We are all looking forward to it. It is a big first game for us and it’ll be an indication of how well we’ve done in pre-season.”
Obviously, it will not be an easy task; Hull won the Challenge Cup last year and also led Super League for most of 2016.
Admittedly, they are one of only three teams – along with Castleford Tigers and St Helens – Trinity failed to be beat last year.
But Chester, who won the Challenge Cup as a player with Hull in 2005 and coached city rivals Hull KR before being sacked just three games into last term, said: “We know what to expect.
“They won at Wembley and had a very good season last year.
“They have recruited well over the off-season, as have we, and it’s two exciting teams. We came close a couple of times against them last year and we should have got a point in the second to last game in the Super-8s.
“We were very unlucky not to come away with anything then, but they are a good footballing side, with some exciting players in the outside-backs and a very physical pack as well.”
Albert Kelly, Josh Griffin and Jake Connor are all set to make their debuts for Hull, who have also included Jansin Turgut after impressing in pre-season.