Wakefield Trinity have made remarkable progress in the two years since they finished 11 points adrift at the bottom of Super League and only avoided relegation by beating Bradford Bulls in the ‘million-pound game’.
Their closing 32-0 thrashing of Wigan Warriors lifted them above the defending champions into fifth place and equalled their highest Super League finish.
Long-serving captain Danny Kirmond has been through the bad times and the good and described 2017 as “an amazing season” .
He said: “It has been a pleasure from start to finish and to end it like that shows how far we have come. A lot of people said there was nothing on Saturday’s game, but for us it was the difference between finishing sixth and fifth.
“That is a big difference to us. Fifth is the highest we’ve finished in a long time and I think we really deserved that.”
Now Kirmond believes Wakefield can mount a sustained challenge for the top four next year.
“The signings we’ve made already show we want to move forward,” he said. “Every year I have been here we’ve talked about moving on and getting better and that’ll be the case again.
“For us to move on from here is going to be difficult, but I think with the group of players we have got we can do it. We have kept everybody together again, there’s only a couple of people moving on which is great and there’s nothing stopping us because the attitude in the squad is very good and nobody will rest on their laurels.”
Trinity missed out on four home games on the final afternoon of the regular season and successive narrow defeats to St Helens and Hull – by a combined total of three points – late in the Super-8s cost them a semi-final appearance.
“When you look at the amount of games we’ve lost by close margins, that shows the type of team we have become,” added Kirmond.
“We have not been blown away by anyone really, though Castleford put a few points on us as did Leeds early in the year. We have learned a great deal this season.
“I think more than anything we’ve gained a belief that we are a good team and that’s the most important thing sometimes.”
There is a strong case for the final round of Super-8s fixtures being played simultaneously.
Trinity’s top-four prospects ended two days before their final game when St Helens won at Salford. Hull’s victory over Castleford Tigers 24 hours later effectively eliminated Wigan, who needed to beat Wakefield by 90 points to sneak into fourth place on for and against points.
That made the meeting at Belle Vue a dead rubber and Wigan played like they could not wait for the season to end. Trinity, in contrast, clearly wanted to finish on a high.
They shrugged off an early injury to Anthony England and led 12-0 at the interval, Liam Finn creating and converting tries for Ben Jones-Bishop and Jacob Miller, both after Wigan’s Joel Tomkins had been sin-binned for making dangerous contact with David Fifita.
Finn kicked a penalty in the second half and Sam Williams – who along with Dean Hadley was playing his last game for Trinity – ducked over from acting-half.
Wigan’s Anthony Gelling had a touchdown chalked off by video referee Ben Thaler for an obstruction, but Trinity finished with a flourish. Scott Grix scored a fine try from a one-two with Jones-Bishop before Williams sent over Keegan Hirst for his first try of the campaign on the final play, Finn taking his tally of conversions to five.
John Kear, Wakefield’s head of rugby, reflected: “We didn’t want to finish with a whimper, we wanted to finish with a bang and I think that has been achieved. I thought we were absolutely magnificent; defensively we were outstanding and some of the tries we scored were exceptional.”
Wakefield Trinity: Grix, Jones-Bishop, Arundel, Tupou, Caton-Brown, Miller, Finn, England, Wood, Huby, Ashurst, Kirmond, Arona. Substitutes: S Williams, Hadley, Hirst, Fifita.
Wigan Warriors: S Tomkins, Davies, Gelling, Bateman, Gildart, G Williams, Leuluai, Nuuausala, McIlorum, Clubb, Isa, Farrell, J Tomkins. Substitutes: Bretherton, Sutton, Powell, Tautai.
Referee: R Hicks (Oldham).