THE size of the task facing whoever becomes Wakefield Trinity Wildcats’ new coach was made crystal clear when Super League’s bottom club went down to Widnes Vikings yesterday.
It was Wakefield’s 12th successive league loss and came against a team who had not won an away game this season.
Though they improved a little in the second half, Wakefield, who remain seven points adrift at the foot of First Utility Super League, paid the price for a dismal first-half performance and never looked like winning a dire game.
Wakefield only threatened twice in the first 40 minutes, young winger Tom Johnstone being involved on both occasions.
After 12 minutes he made a fine catch from Tim Smith’s kick, but was held up over the line by Widnes hooker Aaron Heremaia,
Then, with 11 seconds of the period remaining, he took the ball from his centre Dean Collis around half-way and displayed speed, footwork and an eye for the line as he ghosted past Cameron Phelps and Rhys Hanbury for an outstanding try, which was improved by Jacob Miller.
That got Trinity back in the match after they had trailed 18-0, all four of Widnes’s first half tries coming in the opening 25 minutes. They went ahead after only five through Hanbury, who strolled through a gap created by Phelps’s pass.
Stefan Marsh touched down twice in four minutes and then Jack Owens crossed. Widnes would have been out of sight by then, but Owens could not convert any of their first three tries, before handing over duties to Lloyd White, who did improve the fourth.
The visitors also wasted four good opportunities. Gil Dudson and Owens both knocked-on just short of the line and Joe Mellor, whose kicking game provided most of their attacking threat, got over the whitewash, but slid into touch without putting the ball down. Wakefield’s defence was poor for the most part, but they did manage to hold Alex Gerrard up after he forced his way over.
Johnstone’s try meant Wakefield were still in the game at the interval, but White ended any prospect of a revival when he dashed over from acting-half on 49 minutes, for a try which he also converted.
Matt Ryan was sin-binned for preventing a quick tap and Widnes increased their lead through Marsh’s hat-trick try, but two late touchdowns made the scoreline more respectable.
Ryan returned from his yellow card in time to get on the end of a pass from Miller and then Richard Owen, who had a good game at full-back, sent Collis over, Miller converting both.
That was as close as Wakefield got, though, despite Phelps being sin-binned in the final moments, for a similar offence to Ryan’s.
Wakefield did have the satisfaction of keeping their opposition below 40 points for the first time in nine league games.
And Stuart Dickens, the under-19s coach who is in caretaker charge, felt the way they refused to give in after Ryan was yellow-carded was reason for encouragement.
“I thought we scored some really good tries and there were some positive signs,” Dickens said afterwards. “When Matty Ryan got sin-binned, I think in weeks gone by that would have been a signal for the white flag to be raised.
“Today the boys dug in and they wanted to work hard for each other.”
Dickens, who said he is “not too sure” he wants the coaching role on a permanent basis, felt Wakefield did provide the response he asked for before the match.
“In terms of commitment and desire and determination, I thought that side of the game couldn’t be questioned at all,” he said.
“The things we need to improve on now are probably a bit of quality with the ball and a bit of smartness in decision-making at times.
“I thought we made life pretty hard for ourselves in the first half. We weren’t as disciplined as we needed to be and we didn’t finish our sets as well as we needed to. We only had 11 genuine sets in the first half to their 23 or 24.
“But in the second half, I thought at times we played some great stuff, we just didn’t make great decisions and we made a few too many errors,” added Dickens.
Widnes had not won away from their notorious artificial pitch since last September. Ironically, their coach Denis Betts hit out at Wakefield’s playing surface, describing it as a “disgrace” and “not a surface you should be playing Super League games on”.
Wakefield played almost all the game without their captain Danny Kirmond, who suffered bangs to the head in consecutive tackles and went off with concussion after just 36 seconds.
Meanwhile, Wildcats chairman Michael Carter confirmed after the game that forward Lopini Paea – signed in the off-season from Catalans Dragons – has left Wakefield for a “ new challenge in Australia”.
Wakefield Trinity Wildcats: Owen, Johnstone, Collis, Lyne, Riley, Miller, T Smith, Scruton, McShane, Molloy, Ryan, Kirmond, Washbrook. Substitutes: Crowther, Godinet, Annakin, Anderson.
Widnes Vikings: Hanbury, Owens, Marsh, Phelps, Ah Van, Heremaia, Mellor, Dudson, White, Gerrard, Clarkson, Galea, Isa. Substitutes: Joseph, Leuluai, Manuokafoa, Whitley.
Referee: R Silverwood (Mirfield).