AS the dust settles on the fact Wakefield Trinity have not made the Super League semi-finals, despite an excellent season, it would be easy to point the finger at some recent high-profile mistakes.
However, as Liam Finn, their veteran scrum-half who has under-pinned so much of their stellar work in 2017, contests, that would actually miss the point.
Granted, the West Yorkshire club have lost their previous four Super 8s games to see their campaign tail off and the last two have been in agonising circumstances.
A glaring error from full-back Scott Grix, of course, saw Trinity lose 18-16 in the final moments against St Helens before Finn missed a last-minute drop-goal as they fell 19-18 at Hull FC last Thursday. Today’s last game against Wigan Warriors was meant to be a winner-takes-all shoot-out for the final top-four spot but Saints’ win at Salford on Thursday means the Merseyside club are in and Wakefield now cannot retrieve the situation.
Furthermore, Hull FC’s victory at Castleford Tigers last night saw the last spot secured, the Challenge Cup holders confirming third place and a semi-final at Leeds Rhinos next Friday, so Wigan, too, are left helpless.
Finn told The Yorkshire Post: “We relinquished control essentially so can’t have any complaints about that (Saints qualifying).
“It is painful to realise just how close we were to being in the top-four although you probably wouldn’t have thought it during Thursday’s game; all the commentary kept mentioning was about Salford hopefully winning to give Wigan a semis chance.
“But we do realise how close we were and do feel a bit gutted at this point in time. If you look at where we lost it, though, you could probably go back to near the start of the season when we weren’t confident about how good we actually were. You could look at the last two or three games – a missed drop goal and an error – but there was plenty of games early on where we’d not settled on a team or realised how good we were and then saw them slip by.”
The key now for Wakefield is to sign off on a high by beating the champions at Belle Vue today.
Finn argues it is important Chris Chester’s side do just that and said: “It’s only one spot – fifth or sixth – but fifth definitely looks a lot better from our point of view.
“Certainly compared to last year when we just got into the Super 8s, didn’t then win a game and finished eighth.
“Now, we’ve been in and around the top-four for a lot of the season so we don’t want to be dropping off, finishing with a poor display and ending up sixth with people saying we were only a couple of wins from eighth.”
It is crucial that Wakefield –who have routinely challenged the big guns despite having the league’s smallest playing budget – are allowed to celebrate their progress this term, too.
Thankfully, there has been good news off the pitch this week as, after months of speculation, it was announced Trinity will stay at Belle Vue in 2018 and, pleasingly, plans are in place for a new ground to be built there by 2020.
“It’s great for the club and the design looks really nice; it seems just perfect for what this club needs – a 10,000 capacity ground and nothing too ridiculous,” added Finn, who joined from Castleford ahead of last season.
“(Co-owners) Michael (Carter) and Chris (Brereton) have done all the hard work upstairs, chasing it down, meeting the council left, right and centre and everyone else involved.
“I think after every player who signed for Wakefield over the last 20 years was shown plans for a new stadium, some soon might now actually see it happen.”
Wakefield won 40-32 at Wigan in May in Finn’s 400th game and what he describes as one of the “highlights of the year” after they recovered from 20-0 down.
They will hope for a similar high today and Finn, meanwhile, maintains he is not “beating myself up” about that aforementioned drop-goal miss at Hull.
“I knew I’d missed it straight away,” recalled the player, who will captain Ireland in the World Cup later this autumn.
“But they just decided to drag it out and make me watch it again on the big screen!
“Obviously, I was disappointed and I’ve asked myself over and over again in my head since whether I did the right thing.
“Should I have run it? Should I have waited another tackle? I don’t think it was the fifth. What should I have done?
“But I’m still deciding that now a week later so I’m not going to beat myself up over what I did do in that point five of a second.
“I’ve made some big drop goals in the past and I’d be up for going for one again on Saturday if I had to. As long as I’ve got the courage to stand up and take one that’s the main thing. And I have.”