FROM third in the table earlier in the campaign and dreaming of going all the way to the Grand Final, Wakefield Trinity are now in a fight for Super League survival.
So tight is the table that Trinity went into yesterday’s four-pointer at Salford Red Devils knowing a win would lift them into the top five, but they would be in danger of being dragged into the relegation dogfight if they lost.
Salford were in a similar situation and handled it far better, laying the platform for a win with three tries in the third quarter after Wakefield had briefly led.
Trinity slipped two places to eighth and though they remain only one win outside the play-offs zone they are also just four points clear of the bottom and their season could yet go either way.
With injuries still holding a tight grip on Trinity’s squad their focus for the next few weeks has to be on picking up enough victories to make their Super League status safe rather than hold any thoughts of a semi-finals spot.
Two more forwards joined the casualty list yesterday with Danny Kirmond (knee) and Tyler Randell (concussion) failing to finish the game.
This made it tougher, but Wakefield were second-best throughout, though Salford could not feel totally comfortable until the final five minutes.
Trinity lacked nothing in terms of effort, but Salford were sharper out wide, their forwards dominated and half-backs Robert Lui and Jackson Hastings ran the show.
Lui created the first try after just five minutes with a long, cut out pass that sucked in Trinity’s left-side defence and gave winger Jake Bibby a simple finish at the corner.
The lead lasted until the 20th minute when Bibby spilled a high kick from Jacob Miller who followed through to pick up and scoot over, Danny Brough converting.
Other than that Salford error Wakefield were unable to fashion any clear opportunities and found themselves 14 points adrift at the interval.
Salford had done most of the pressing before Trinity’s try, but were twice penalised in possession near Wakefield’s line and a lack of direction on attack was highlighted when Lee Mossop drove the ball in on the last and was easily tackled by a grateful Trinity defence.
But what the Red Devils do possess is two attacking pivots who can create something out of nothing and a hooker who specialises in catching defences napping from acting-half.
When stand-off Lui and scrum-half Hastings upped their game they inspired back to back tries that turned a 6-4 deficit into a 14-6 lead within eight minutes.
Hastings’s clever run set up field position for Lui to jink a smart kick towards the line that Niall Evalds read brilliantly to touch down.
After Krisnan Inu kicked the first of an eventual six conversions, Trinity hoofed the restart out on the full and following the penalty Hastings and Lui linked to create space for Evalds and his pass was finished by Bibby.
Three minutes before the interval Lussick, who had just been introduced off the bench, spotted a gap and darted over from acting-half to make Inu’s conversion from in front of the posts a formality.
On the stroke of half-time Wakefield were unfortunate when Ryan Hampshire picked up a loose ball close to the visitors’ line and dashed into open space, but he was pulled back for an obstruction, though Inu could not land the penalty kick after the hooter had sounded.
Wakefield refused to go away during a more even second period, but much of the damage had been done.
The visitors got off to the perfect start when Brough’s second half kick-off went dead in goal; another drop out was followed by a penalty and then a scrum from which Miller teed up Hampshire and his superb long pass sent Ben Jones-Bishop over, Brough adding his second goal.
That was an example of what Trinity are capable of, but they could not sustain enough pressure.
Lee Kershaw was recalled by Trinity in place of Junior Sa’u – who has returned to Salford after his loan spell though he did not feature yesterday – and he failed to deal with a grubber over the line by Lui, who took advantage of the error to touch down.
That was tough on the teenage winger after he had made a superb tackle to keep Kris Welham out on the previous play.
Trinity hit back when Jones-Bishop put boot to ball after breaking down the left-wing, Evalds spilled it and Miller gathered for his second touchdown, though it was unconverted.
Hastings’s kick created a try for Welham, but again Trinity responded as Hampshire sent Jones-Bishop in and there were 12 points in it with 11 minutes left.
Wakefield, though, could not get any closer and Salford sealed it with back-to-back tries by Evalds, who crossed from Lui’s pass and then went in again, Hastings the provider this time, in the set from the restart.
Giant forward Paulin Pauli played the full game for Trinity after returning from a loan spell with Salford.
Salford Red Devils: Evalds, Bibby, Inu, Welham, Olpherts, Lui, Hastings, Mossop, Tomkins, Dudson, Jones, Griffin, McCarthy. Subs Burke, Nakubuwai, Flanagan, Lussick.
Wakefield Trinity: Hampshire, Kershaw, Lyne, Croft, Jones-Bishop, Miller, Brough, Kopczak, Wood, England, Kirmond, Pauli, Crowther. Subs Tanginoa, Hirst, King, Randell.
Referee: Marcus Griffiths (Widnes).