Wakefield Trinity. Where do you start? Formally known as the Wakefield Trinity Wildcats from 1999 the year they entered the Super League. A club which has always been on the cusp of relegation but always find a way to survive!
The first case of this within Super League was during the 2001 season where they condemned Huddersfield Giants to relegation finishing 1 point above them within the league. The year after saw a complete contrast in which saw them land their first ever Super League Play-Off position finishing in sixth place. Two years later they found themselves in a semi-final against Wigan Warriors after beating Hull in the quarter-final but despite leading 0-14 fell to defeat 18-14 after Adrian Lam marked his final home match for the Warriors.
After the highs of 2004 it would be hoped that Wakefield could push on and become an established play-off team. Unfortunately, this was not the case as in 2006 saw Wakefield fighting for their Super League lives once again five years after the survival against Huddersfield. This time it saw them facing Castleford Tigers in the first ‘Million Pound Game’. A dramatic round 27 set up the “Million Pound Game” where Wakefield needed to beat the Bradford Bulls and were reliant on the Salford City Reds beating Castleford Tigers. Wakefield got a 12-20 result away at the Bulls whilst Castleford lost to Salford 26-16. The ‘Million Pound Game’ took place on 16th September 2006 at 18:00 in front of a sell-out 11,000 crowd. Wakefield prevailed with a 29-17 victory despite the Tigers leading within parts of the game thus relegating Castleford to the National League One. The following years saw Wakefield Trinity finishing 8th in the league in quiet seasons compared what was about to come in the next years.
In 2011, the club entered administration to avoid a winding up petition brought by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Custom (HMRC). It is thought the club owed over £300,000 in unpaid tax. The directors of the club asked the fans to raise a total of £500,000 to help secure the immediate future of the club, but fell way short of the required target prior to the end of January. During this time, the club were in talks with four potential buyers. Six weeks after going into administration the club was given the green light to take part within the next Super League season in the hands of a new company. The club were deducted four points prior to the beginning of the season along with the Crusaders seeing them finishing 11th and 12th respectively.
After a rough 2011, it was expected the club would struggle again in 2012 but managed to achieve an 8th place finish winning 13 out of the 27 games securing a play-off tie away at Leeds the current reigning champions. Despite leading 12-16 the class of Leeds told within the second half as Ben Jones-Bishop ran in a second half hat-trick to finally put the Wildcats to bed with the game finishing 42-20. Considering the challenges the club had faced in the previous year it is a season that could be considered a success and providing the club something to build on in future years.
The 2013 Super League Season saw the club finish in 11th place beating the Castleford Tigers on the last day of the season to finish above them in the league thanks to a last minute try from Liam Kay after Ali Lauittiti charged down an attempted Rangi Chase drop goal. The 2014 Super League Season saw a 12th place finish in what was the final year of the franchise system changing to the ‘Super 8s’ format where they was only space for 12 teams within the league. This resulted in the London Broncos who managed only one win all season and the Bradford Bulls who were one of the biggest teams within the league relegated to the Championship for the start of the 2015 season.
The 2015 season looked to show much promise after the club started with 22-24 and 44-24 over Castleford and Hull KR respectively. But a season that got off to the best possible start was not to last long as the club had to wait until July 1st for only their third and final win of the regular season against an under pressure Lee Radford’s Hull FC. After 23 rounds the club had accumulated just 3 wins scoring on average 17 points per game and conceding on average 40 points per game including conceding both the biggest home win of the season, 80-0 against the Warrington Wolves and largest away win, 20-58 against the Castleford Tigers. James Webster stated as early as April that the goal for the season was to ‘stay up’ and pointed out the importance of the 7 game that follow the regular season. He was subsequently sacked in May due to the run of poor results. He was to be replaced by Brian Smith who managed a win percentage of 27%.
The middle 8’s saw the Wildcats lose to all their Super League opponents along with the Sheffield Eagles but beating the Bradford Bulls, Halifax and Leigh Centurions accumulating 6 points and setting up the first ‘Million Pound Game’ against the Bradford Bulls in a home tie due to their 46 point superior points difference over the Bulls. The game took place on 3rd October 2015 and if I do say so myself the longest 2 hours of my life. The game was attended by 7,236 fans and neutrals. In a game which ebbed and flowed and saw Danny Addy missing a penalty goal attempt which would of brought the scores level with less than 10 minutes to play. The game could of swung either way throughout the whole of this period and it took a last minute effort from on loan Scott Moore to finish the game and maintain the Wildcats super league status in their second final day survival following the win over the Tigers in 2006, subsequently sending the Bradford Bulls back into the championship.
The 2016 season had every pundit under the sun tipping Wakefield to be in the same situation once again and finishing bottom of the league and fighting for Super League survival once again. Seven rounds in it looked as all the pundits would be correct and it threatened to be on par with the previous season, if not worst. The situation looked to get worse after Brian Smith left Wakefield with chairman Michael Carter describing his relationship with him as ‘frosty’. The search for a new head coach began with a variety of different people in the picture. On the 16th March Chris Chester was appointed with near immediate effect excluding the defeat to Hull FC just two days after Chris Chester took charge. The following four games saw the Wildcats record four victories against Huddersfield, Leeds, Salford and the famous 62-0 win against the Wigan Warriors. Another defeat to Hull was soon to follow with the Wildcats recording three more wins on the bounce against Widnes, Warrington and the Catalan Dragons. It is thanks to the winning streaks along with wins away at Huddersfield and Catalan the club managed to achieve a very unlikely 8th place finish along with making it to the Challenge Cup Semi Final giving the club a great platform for the 2017 season.
The 2017 season started with a home game against defending Challenge Cup champions Hull FC, in awful conditions with the field looking more like a mud bath than a professional rugby pitch. In a tight game the newly branded Wakefield Trinity lost 8-12 in a game which looking back was there for the taking, this would become a theme as a 24-16 loss followed in a game which Trinity controlled for 65 minutes of the game before throwing it away to a poor Huddersfield team. In the weeks to follow Trinity managed to win 5/6 games with the loss coming away at the Rhinos in what so far has been the worst performance of the season. A tough Easter period proved just that when Trinity faced a red hot Castleford Tigers who ran out 42-24 victors despite a much improved second half performance from Trinity. The following game at home to Wigan proved very similar to the games at Hull FC and Huddersfield where it is a game that could of gone the way of Trinity but fell just short thanks to a late Wigan try in the corner scored by Liam Marshall, the only try scored within the second half. Unfortunately the following game at the Warrington Wolves was to end in the same despair, as Wakefield lost 22-20 thanks to a late Tom Lineham try despite leading 20-6 early in the second half. Since then Trinity have strung together four successive wins against Catalan, Leigh, Dewsbury and Widnes, leaving them sitting 5th in the league 2 points off 4th place and 5 points above 9th place with 9 games left before the break into the Super 8’s and Middle 8’s.
At the moment the future looks extremely bright for the club as under the control of Michael Carter have found financial stability along with performances on the field. The biggest question now is will they be able to keep hold of some of the key players which have been huge in getting the club into this position. The answer so far seems to be yes! With Jacob Miller, Liam Finn and David Fifita all signing new deals at the club beyond the 2017 season. There is no doubt some of the ‘bigger’ clubs will be looking at some of the in-form players within the club such as Ben Jones Bishop who has scored an impressive 12 tries so far this season. The winger on the other side isn’t half bad, either is he? Tom Johnstone who is being dubbed as one of the hottest properties in Rugby League has been nothing short of sensational over the past 2 seasons has all the makings of a try scoring machine. After a strong start to the 2017 season the game against Catalan would prove to be his last of the season after suffering a season ending injury whilst making a line break during the victory.
It is without doubt Chris Chester has done a fabulous job since joining in 2016, the continuation of resigning star players along with strong recruitment where needed, who is to say the Wakefield club cannot be considered top 4 material as early as this year? Or maybe dare I say it make it to a grand final in the next 2-3 years! Or maybe I am dreaming, only time will tell.