Wakefield Trinity 16 St Helens 20 - ‘A step in the right direction’ says Trinity coach Chris Chester

Alex Walker scores Wakefield's first try.  Picture Bruce RollinsonAlex Walker scores Wakefield's first try.  Picture Bruce Rollinson
Alex Walker scores Wakefield's first try. Picture Bruce Rollinson
COVID-AFFECTED games are generating plenty of inspirational performances for the underdog, if not the results.

Wakefield Trinity were the latest side to experience that scenario last night, Chris Chester’s gallant squad – down to their last 17 available players and on an eight-game losing run – actually leading champions St Helens heading past the hour mark.

It is fair to say Super League’s leaders, having failed to penetrate their opponents’ stubborn resistance for so long, were beginning to look concerned until a couple of quick rapier thrusts cruelly left Wakefield with nothing.

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England stand-off Jonny Lomax, who had been swarmed at every step and turn by Trinity’s suffocating defence, managed to unleash a long ball for Regan Grace to score in the 63rd minute.

Soon after, he escaped to set up Lachlan Coote’s second try for a 20-12 advantage. That was always going to be too much for Wakefield – who saw Joe Westerman, Matty Ashurst and Josh Wood excel in their pack – to overhaul.

Still, their tireless efforts only increased further as they proved their spirit is alive and well. That was illustrated by Ashurst’s try with just 38 seconds remaining when Dave Fifita forged his way forward and produced a fine offload for his team-mate.

Playing his first game since being stood down for refusing to wear a GPS vest and then contracting the virus himself, Australian prop Fifita was clearly keen to impress. He did, as did on-loan London Broncos prop Eddie Battye once more, while Ryan Hampshire delivered one of his best kicking games since joining the club.

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Ultimately, just like a makeshift Hull FC side experienced at the same ground the night before against Leeds Rhinos, it amounted to zero points on the Super League table but Chester could glean so many positives.

David Fafita is held by Matty Lees and Louie MacCarthy-Scarsbrook.   Picture Bruce RollinsonDavid Fafita is held by Matty Lees and Louie MacCarthy-Scarsbrook.   Picture Bruce Rollinson
David Fafita is held by Matty Lees and Louie MacCarthy-Scarsbrook. Picture Bruce Rollinson

On the eve of the game, his CEO Michael Carter revealed another positive Covid test had seem them lose one player and another eight to track and trace and Trinity only had 14 fit players.

He said a bunch of others would play “rock, paper, scissors” to decide which three would limp on to make up the numbers.

Yet, with the steeliness and quality of this display, you would have never have guessed they had been in such a state of disarray.

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That said, when Wakefield opened the scoring via Alex Walker inside nine minutes, even they could rarely have imagined they would not lose that lead until almost an hour later.

Teams just do not keep this stylish Saints team quiet but, with their combination of grit and resilience, Chester’s side did just that while posing plenty of threats themselves.

Westerman created Walker’s score, crabbing across field just like in his younger days at Castleford Tigers before finding Reece Lyne, whose chip infield bounced perfectly for the full-back.

Saints were unrecognisable in the opening quarter. When has anyone seen James Roby make two mistakes in 20 minutes?

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It was a surprise when the veteran hooker knocked on but almost unbelievable when he was then hauled down running on the last tackle.

Saints as a side were clearly rattled, perhaps surprised by Wakefield’s urgency and intent.

After Josh Simm’s high tackle, their opponents punished them, Craig Kopczak barging over for Hampshire to convert in the 19th minute. When Lyne picked off Lomax’s pass and raced 60m, it seemed they could even go 18-0 ahead but, crucially, Grace got back to deny him. That kept his side in touch and, so, when Louise McCarthy-Scarsbrook went route one close to the line, Coote’s conversion left it at 12-6 in the 32nd minute. Soon after Coote scored himself after Simm had done well down the left.

But Wakefield led 12-10 at the break and it stayed like that until Lomax – left with his head in his hands after that Lyne intercept – finally found his rhythm to help secure an eighth straight league win since the end of lockdown.

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Chester said: “It’s certainly a step in the right direction. The first 40 minutes we were the better side; we forced them into uncharacteristic errors and defended real tough. The difference was they were just a bit more clinical with the ball, certainly in the second half. Effort wise, with everything they’ve had to go through the last 48 hours, it was great. My guys had hearts of lions out there and came so close to taking them.We really stood up defensively and that was the pleasing aspect.”

Wakefield Trinity: A Walker; Senior, Lyne, Croft, Johnstone; Jowitt, Hampshire; Kopczak, J Wood, Tanginoa, Ashurst, Batchelor, Westerman. Substitutes: Bailey, Battye, Fifita, Tangata.

St Helens: Coote; Makinson, Naiqama, Simm, Grace; Lomax, Fages; Walmsley, Roby, lees, Bentley, Knowles, McCarthy-Scarsbrook. Substitutes: Taia, Peyroux, Amor, Welsby.

Referee: Liam Moore (Wigan).

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