THE sight of Wakefield Trinity’s 1998 promotion-winning squad doing a lap of honour last night is a timely reminder of just where this club has come from.
Twenty years ago, few people ever thought they would be able to really cope in Super League.
Yet they did and, now with co-owners Michael Cater and Chris Brereton’s astute leadership and head coach Chris Chester putting his mark on the football side, Trinity also no longer look like a side threatened by relegation.
However, as last night demonstrated, they still have some work to do if they are ever going to reach that next step where they can challenge sides like runaway Super League leaders St Helens at the business end of the season.
Granted, Wakefield – 16-0 down at the break after conceding three tries in eight minutes –had Saints rattled going into the final stages and worrying about losing a third successive game for the first time under Justin Holbrook.
Indeed, when the rampant centre Bill Tupou crossed to make it 22-16 in the 69th minute you sensed it would be another famous night for those heroes of ’98 – Francis Stephenson, Gary Lord, captain Matt Fuller and coach Andy Kelly were just some of the familiar faces on show – to celebrate.
However, Saints, on the back of that shock Challenge Cup semi-final defeat to Catalans Dragons and a home loss to Huddersfield Giants, used all their nous to just edge themselves home.
Luke Douglas and Regan Grace got late tries to settle nerves, adding to England winger Tommy Makinson’s fine first-half brace and Wakefield were left to rue not making more of early pressure.
Hulking prop David Fifita made a couple of hefty carries to punch holes and they had plenty of ball at the right end of the field especially with the visitors being initially a little lax in possession.
However, too often there was no end product. The nearest Chester’s side got was when Tyler Randell burrowed close to the line only to be denied and, in fairness, Saints did defend well to keep their rivals pointless.
Reece Lyne was snared running on the last tackle as Wakefield ran out of options and then stand-off Ryan Hampshire spilled with no one near him to waste another promising opportunity.
Even when Chester looked to make changes, things went awry.
Indeed, Tinirau Arona coughed up his first pass after coming on with no one in sight and then the first thing Kyle Wood did – normally such a positive influence when coming on at dummy-half – was to find Tom Johnstone with a pass that would result in only one thing; the heavily-marked winger being bundled into touch.
When prop Craig Huby – not a regular kicker since his early days at Castleford – found himself having to dink a grubber in, the ball rolled dead, gifting Saints a seven-tackle set.
They didn’t need them all; just a few tackles later, finally able to gain some momentum around the ruck, they had marched downfield ready for Makinson to score his first and begin that flurry of game-changing points.
Ben Barba came up with the killer play. The full-back’s fine cut-out pass gave Makinson just enough space for him to finish in the corner in the 26th minute.
Five minutes later, ruthless Saints added those quickfire back-to-back tries to leave Trinity in a hole, Jonny Lomax accelerating into space before dummying past Max Jowitt.
Better was to come in the next set when Makinson stooped in front of Jowitt take Danny Richardson’s high kick on the run – a remarkable piece of skill – and then scramble across the line for his spectacular second.
Saints did still gift Wakefield chances, like when Richardson missed touch with a penalty, but then Matty Ashurst offloaded when the pass was never on and so they went in to the break scoreless.
Kyle Wood did get them up and running after Jacob Miller’s fine pass sent Tupou charging into space.
They almost scored again in the next set when Jowitt broke from deep after a bizarre mix-up at the restart only for Makinson to brilliantly get back and deny Tupou at the last.
Still, even when Chester’s side were reduced to 12 men – and perhaps harshly following Huby’s high tackle on Kyle Amor – they refused to yield.
Instead, giant second-row Pauli Pauli barged over for his fifth try in four games.
But, frustratingly, he then lost the ball near his own line in the next set and Theo Fages capitalised – with Huby just about to come back into the fray.
Trinity stay sixth while revived Saints now need only one more point from their final five Super 8s games to confirm the League Leaders’ Shield.
Wakefield Trinity: Jowitt; Jones-Bishop, Lyne, Tupou, Johnstone; Miller, Hampshire; Fifita, Randell, England, Ashurst, Batchelor, Horo. Substitutes: Wood, Pauli, Arona, Huby.
St Helens: Barba; Makinson, Costello, Percival, Grace; Lomax, Richardson; Amor, Roby, Douglas, Taia, Knowles, McCarthy-Scarsbrook. Substitutes: Fages, Wilkin, Lees, Ashworth.
Referee: Liam Moore (Wigan).