FITTINGLY, it was a four-man tackle that led to Wakefield Trinity Wildcats dramatically denying Patrick Ah Van a match-winning try in the final minute last night.
Fittingly because it is as a collective that this revitalised Wakefield side, so determined, gutsy and fulsome of spirit, are turning around their season.
James Webster’s unbeaten start to life as a head coach has now stretched to five games and, a squad that was recently ranked relegation candidates have now moved to within just two points of eighth-placed Widnes.
All five games have been at Belle Vue and, so, their mettle will be tested when they venture to Perpignan a week tomorrow and then onto Warrington.
But this Wakefield side have growing belief and, with so many of them having won seven consecutive games to sneak into eighth in 2012, they will be undeterred, unlike Widnes who have won just once in eight league matches.
This game turned in the West Yorkshire club’s favour last night during a vital 90-second period when Widnes missed the chance to extend their lead to potentially 10-0 – and soon after trailed 6-4.
Ah Van intercepted Timmy Smith’s pass to race 85m but the winger was dragged down just inches short following a brilliant chase from on-loan Leeds Rhinos centre Jimmy Keinhorst.
Widnes then lost possession with Wakefield’s defence still recovering and, after Richard Moore negated the threat, Widnes lost it again moments later when coming away from their own line.
Paddy Flynn spilled under pressure from a storming Moore tackle and it was Smith who pounced on the loose ball to score in the 49th minute, just reaching it before Alex Gerrard’s outstretched hand according to the video officials.
Paul Sykes converted and did so again when Nick Scruton – the ex-Bradford Bulls prop who has just signed a new two-year deal – charged onto a flat Smith pass beneath the posts and showed neat footwork to elude the initial Widnes defender and crash over.
Wakefield – who had hardly any possession in a first half that Widnes somehow only led 4-0 – went on to dominate proceedings with their opponents looking defeated.
However, out of nothing, the visitors were handed a lifeline with 12 minutes to go.
Richard Mathers, the Wakefield full-back, dallied before attempting to deal with a long kick downfield and, before he knew it, the Widnes centre Stefan Marsh had pounced at his feet and grounded the ball in the corner.
Danny Tickle, whose simple miss in the first half eventually proved costly, curled over the conversion to set up a tense finish but the hosts, with Smith, Sykes and the excellent Paul McShane all producing telling kicks to keep Widnes at bay, held on for another hard-fought win just like last week versus Leeds. Ah Van thought he had muscled over at the end but Owen, Sykes, Keinhorst and Chris Riley combined to ensure the New Zealander was thwarted.
Wakefield had earlier done well to trail by just four points at the interval. Their keen opponents forced three drop-outs inside the opening 12 minutes which was in direct contrast to a week earlier when Widnes, by the same point, had been 18-0 down against Castleford.
Here, though, Denis Betts’s side were clearly intent on a more purposeful start.
Fortunately for Webster’s side, for all Kev Brown’s clever kicking, Widnes were generally profligate with their chances.
Their only success came via Tickle, the ex-Hull FC second-row running a perfect angle back onto Joe Mellor’s pass and drive through Sykes’s attempted tackle from 10m out in the 18th minute.
Typically, though, considering their poor use of the ball, Tickle failed to kick the simple conversion attempt.
Still, it was past the half-hour mark before the hosts showed any meaningful attacking intent.
Certainly improved by the introduction of hooker McShane and Ali Lauitiiti, the veteran second-row featuring for the first time since injuring his knee in April, Wakefield had wasted their sole decent possession previously when Scruton off-loaded blindly 15m out and on only the second tackle.
The visitors were thankful to Paddy Flynn, though, when the winger came up with a crucial defensive read to shoot in and flatten Mathers just as the Trinity full-back looked capable of capitalising on a three-man overlap.
Mathers was heavily involved, too, when Owen – the late hero against Leeds – thought he had levelled in the 38th minute following a crisp handling movement to his wing.
However, video replays rightly ruled the former Castleford man was in touch before scoring so his side went in scoreless but that second half would prove a different story.
Wakefield second-row Lee Gilmour, meanwhile, chalked up his 400th Super League game joining an exclusive list including only Kevin Sinfield, Jamie Peacock, Keith Senior and Paul Wellens.
Wakefield Trinity Wildcats: Mathers; Owen, Keinhorst, Lyne, Riley; Sykes, T Smith; Moore, Wildie, Scruton, Gilmour, Ryan, Washbrook. Substitutes: McShane, Raleigh, Tautai, Lauitiiti.
Widnes Vikings: Hanbury; Ah Van, Dean, Marsh, Flynn; Brown, Mellor; Cahill, Clarke, Gerrard, Galea, Tickle, Leuluai. Substitutes: White, Isa, Joseph, Allen.
Referee: Ben Thaler (Wakefield).