WAKEFIELD TRINITY, who begin their pre-season campaign with a visit to Leeds Rhinos on Boxing Day, are looking in better shape now than 12 months ago, coach Chris Chester says.
New signings Jay Pitts, Alex Walker and Josh Wood have been included in Trinity’s 19-man squad for the traditional festive fixture at Headingley and Matty Ashurst will return from long-term injury.
Trinity rose as high as third in the Super League table last term before a savage run of injuries knocked them off course and they tumbled into a relegation battle, eventually finishing ninth after a crucial win over London Broncos in September’s final round. The 2020 season has an early start, with Trinity commencing their campaign at Hull KR on Friday, January 31, so Chester reckons this year’s Christmas fixture will have more bearing than usual.
Trinity began preparations in early November and Chester said: “I think we are ready for a game.”
The coach insisted: “This week is our eighth in pre-season and I think we are in a lot better position now than 12 months ago.
“We’ve managed to get quite a lot more into the players over the past seven weeks and there are some positive signs.
“The guys are looking really fit, which has been a big focus in pre-season.
“They are looking strong so it should be a good first hit-out and as long as we don’t pick up any injuries I will be happy.”
Defences often dominate the Christmas fixture, which Rhinos won 10-4 last year and Chester admitted: “I am not too bothered about what we do with the ball.
“We have done quite a bit with the ball [in training], but I want to look at our attitude more than anything and where we are fitness-wise.”
Rather than getting a Christmas break, Trinity’s players will be at work on December 28, 29 and 30 ahead of what will be a “really busy” January.
They face Hull KR in Danny Brough’s testimonial game on January 12, before flying to Alicante for warm weather training the following day.
Following a week in the sun, they take on Huddersfield Giants on Wednesday, January 22 and the season-proper begins nine days later.
“It will all come thick and fast after Christmas,” Chester said.
“We’ve got to be mindful the season starts early and we’ve only got four weeks before we go again.”
Leeds are also rebuilding following a third relegation battle in four years.
Richard Agar was appointed coach at the end of last season, following a spell in interim charge and has named recruits Luke Gale, Kruise Leeming and Alex Mellor in his Boxing Day squad.
Rhinos’ medical staff are monitoring Leeming after he picked up a knee strain in training on Monday, but coach Agar said it is “nothing serious”.
“We fully expect we will have some work to do post-Christmas, but we are happy with where we are at,” said Agar. “The boys are in terrific spirits and absolutely looking forward to a game.”