Season Review: Wakefield Trinity
Finishing on a high
Wakefield’s late season revival under Willie Poching offers Trinity fans hope for 2022.
In the final Betfred Super League table, Wakefield Trinity finished with just one win less than sixth-placed Hull KR.
That probably offers a skewed view of how 2022 really unfolded for Trinity - they played four more matches for a start - but their season run-in certainly helped end their campaign on a relative high.
Five wins from seven matches under what was then caretaker coach Willie Poching provided some genuine optimism for next year, and deservedly handed the popular New Zealander the permanent job.
“The way he’s got everybody enjoying coming to work has shone through in how we’ve played the game the last few weeks,” chief executive Michael Carter explained when announcing the appointment.
“I always want to be excited about coming to work and watching games, and I’ve certainly felt that since Willie took over. When you’re picking head coaches you can get a good feel, and from mine and the board’s point of view it was a unanimous decision.”
Before then though Carter had to part company with a man who had spent over five years by his side and who he counts as a close friend in Chris Chester. He paid the price for a difficult first 17 games of the season that yielded just four wins.
The campaign started with six straight defeats, including narrow losses to Leeds, twice, and Hull FC.
The run was eventually broken with an accomplished win over Hull KR in late May, sparking a sequence of three straight wins that offered brief hope of an unlikely play-offs push.
But that never materialised, and despite a gritty home triumph over Wigan in June, Chester’s sides fifth defeat in a row, away to Huddersfield on August 8, proved to be his last game in charge.
“It’s always a sad and difficult decision when change is needed, but the board felt that the time was right for change,” Carter said at the time. “For many reasons, we are stuck in a rut, and have an incredibly important period coming up. Chris came in at a low point for the club, and for me personally, and completely changed things around.”
This time it was Poching’s opportunity to turn things around, having worked under Chester as assistant as part of an extensive coaching apprenticeship across a host of Super League clubs.
He managed to do that in his first game in charge, a stirring home win over title hopefuls Warrington, a result that seemed to immediately rejuvenate the season.
Poching couldn’t end a long losing run to local rivals Castleford in his next game in charge, but the performance was encouraging again, and head turning wins over Hull KR, Leeds and Huddersfield quickly followed.
There was one final stumble, an unexpected away defeat at relegated Leigh in Wakefield’s penultimate game, but then Poching’s job application found one final reference, an accomplished 44-12 home win over Hull FC. Kelepi Tanginoa scored twice with David Fifita’s late conversion accurately summing up the significant change in mood around the club.
Just five days later, Poching was handed the role on a permanent basis.
“It’s been a long road but I’ve learned a lot along on the way,” he said. “My wife supported me all the way through this - at the start of my coaching career I asked her for 10 years and it’s been 15. Now we want to get the right players to fit what we want to do.”
Poching will have plenty of ability in his current squad, with experienced back rower Jay Pitts a real unsung hero throughout the campaign, complimenting Tanginoa’s explosive danger on the other side of the field.
Winger Lee Kershaw emerged as a real key figure before a shattering ACL injury ended his season, while Mason Lino’s influence on the team grew throughout the course of the year, particularly through his shrewd kicking game and danger with the ball in hand. The likes of Tinirau Arona and Eddie Battye are pack stalwarts and despite more injuries, Tom Johnstone showed plenty more of his remarkable talent.
At times Joe Westerman looked the best loose forward in the competition through a series of towering performances, and he will undoubtedly be missed as he returns to his boyhood club Castleford for 2022.
But Poching appears convinced that there is enough talent to work with to make an impact next year, something his 10 points from seven games in charge underlined.
By his and Carter’s own admissions, life is rarely easy at Wakefield Trinity - but if everyone can keep a smile on their faces then 2022 should be an interesting campaign for one of the sport’s most famous names.
Star man - Jay Pitts
A straw poll of Wakefield supporters asked about their best player in 2022 kept throwing one name up more than any others - Jay Pitts. The back rower has returned to his first professional club after spells at Leeds, Hull FC, Bradford and London Broncos, and now appears to be in the peak years of his career. At 31, Pitts has attained levels of remarkable consistency that see him contribute to Trinity’s performances on a weekly basis, and he provides a steadying influence for those around him. He should again be a key man for Poching next year.
Season highlight - Round 19 versus Warrington Wolves
Just five days after Wakefield parted company with Chris Chester they hosted top two-chasing Warrington at the Mobile Rocket Stadium, in what could have been a daunting first fixture for caretaker boss Willie Poching. But tries for Tom Johnstone, David Fifita and Mason Lino gave Trinity an unlikely 20-0 lead before the Wolves stormed back. The visitors got to within four points at one stage but another try to Lee Kershaw and Mason Lino’s late penalty allowed Wakefield to hold on and provide a springboard for their season run-in.
Rising star - Yusuf Aydin
Aydin became a more regular feature on the Wakefield team sheet as the season unfolded and the Turkish international prop looks well placed to kick on again in 2022. The 20-year-old front rower was a Yorkshire academy representative before making his Trinity debut against Hull FC in 2020. Used primarily off the bench, he kept a number of more senior stars out of the team towards the end of the campaign and will now be looking for a big pre-season to cement his place in Trinity first choice 17.