Wakefield Trinity’s various supposed demises have come thick and fast over the last 25 years. Perennial relegation candidates, they have been written off time and again as they battled out most of their days in the bottom four of the Betfred Super League. And yet they have constantly overcome the odds.
When the franchise system was introduced ahead of the 2009 season, the rugby league world saw it partly as a means of putting Wakefield on notice. With no recent tilts at the top spots to speak of beyond a single play-off elimination win over Hull FC in 2004, and with a stadium bearing charm but precious little in the way of modern conveniences, Trinity were tipped to struggle for a spot in the top flight upon the renewal phase of licences after 2011.
But they were still in Super League come 2012, with Crusaders’ last-minute withdrawal of their application meaning Wakefield were given an 11th-hour reprieve. In each of the three-year cycles there was a brief flirtation with the play-offs and two seasons of intense struggle.
- Fev firing but Long demands more
- Morgan tipped for Super League return with Cas
- Wakefield 14/1 outsiders for top six - Betfred*
By 2015, Super League had opted for the Super 8s structure, which was again viewed as Wakefield’s death knell in the top flight. And indeed in the first season of the new format, Trinity were cut adrift from the off and finished rock bottom of the league in the initial stage, but managed to save themselves the ignominy of relegation by beating Bradford Bulls 24-16 in the first ever Million Pound Game.
While some saw that victory as a delay of the inevitable, Trinity then reached the Super 8s for three consecutive seasons under Chris Chester, constantly confounding the odds by making a fortress of Belle Vue with the likes of Tom Johnstone, David Fifita, Ben Jones-Bishop and Jacob Miller leading them to a string of great finishes including two top-five spots.
Recent times have been less successful though, with a ninth and three 10th-place finishes in the last four years and after the departure of Chester and then Willie Poching they turned to Head of Rugby Mark Applegarth to lead them through a 2023 campaign which has looked a struggle from long before the off.
Having lost Johnstone to Catalans Dragons and Miller to neighbours Castleford Tigers, their squad looks much thinner than in previous years. And after a Johnstone-inspired home defeat on opening day to the French outfit, Wakey have lost their last two matches – to Wigan Warriors and Huddersfield Giants – without scoring a single point, shipping 68 in the process.
With the newly-promoted Leigh Leopards looking more ready to compete in Super League than ever before, the constant yo-yoing of clubs promoted from the Betfred Championship might be about to pause long enough to put Wakefield in dire straits. And Applegarth has some convincing to do that he is capable of pulling them out of this particular fire given his lack of previous first-team coaching experience.
Chuck in the controversy over the readiness of the club’s new hybrid playing surface and this week’s news that winger Lewis Murphy, who has 19 tries in 24 senior games to his name, will miss the rest of the season after ACL damage, and this has been a start to the campaign which will leave Wakefield fans seriously worried.
Trinity have been in the mire before. After 20 bottom-half finishes in 24 previous Super League seasons, you get used to people writing you off. But in their 25th crack at the top flight, staving off a wooden spoon might be Wakefield’s biggest challenge yet.
*18+ | BeGambleAware | Odds Subject to Change