WAKEFIELD Trinity Wildcats full-back Richard Mathers intends to prove his side aren’t “crazy” and help fire them into the Super League play-offs.
When James Webster took over as head coach last month, they had won just twice in their previous 10 games and were edging perilously close to the relegation mire.
Yet they have since been transformed and unbeaten under the Australian’s tutelage, having defeated champions Wigan Warriors, illustrious Leeds Rhinos and London Broncos, while drawing with Hull FC.
If they can pick up another win this evening they will be just two points adrift of Widnes in that coveted eighth spot with seven fixtures remaining.
“There is obviously no reason why we shouldn’t be aiming for the play-offs,” said Mathers, who was part of the side that remarkably won its last seven games two years ago to sneak into the eight.
“If we had been talking about it five or six weeks ago then everyone would have thought we were all crazy.
“So, if we make the play-offs it will be one of the biggest achievements of my career.
“People on the outside don’t have the perception of what is going on and think we are easybeats and certainties for relegation.
“So wins like the one against Leeds are the ones you savour and it would be remarkable if we could now start knocking off some of the big boys above us.
“It was a shambles in the off-season. We hardly had any players, other players came in late, we lost our coach – it has been the hardest eight months or so of my playing career.”
Mathers admits Webster, the assistant promoted when Richard Agar left following the 20-12 loss at Bradford, is the catalyst.
“One of the first things he said when he came in was he was sick of all the doom and gloom and relegation talk about the place, of people talking down about us and of us getting dragged into a relegation dogfight,” said the 30-year-old. “It sounds dramatic but it was an enlightened moment. His response was ‘let’s go and get some points and start chasing those big boys.’”
And that is just what they have done.
In contrast, Widnes’s impressive early season form has nosedived with the club – who face Castleford Tigers in the Challenge Cup semi-finals next month – having won just once in their last seven league outings.
“I have been in a situation myself when Wembley has been on the horizon,” said Mathers, who also concedes the re-signing of scrum-half Timmy Smith on loan from Salford Red Devils has been crucial.
“They (Widnes) won’t admit it and it’s not a thing you consciously think about it but it’s like an elephant in the room – the attraction of a big semi-final and Wembley and you can take your eye off the ball.
“That’s good for us so we need to keep plugging away.”
Wakefield’s attacking options are further bolstered tonight with the return of Ali Lauitiiti for the first time since suffering a potentially career-ending knee injury in April.