Jacob Miller improves Wakefield’s survival hopes in win against Wigan
There is still plenty of rugby to be played before the Super League playoffs start but here, in the stifling summer heat, it was hard not to feel like two of the competition’s burning issues went some way to being decided.
Wakefield Trinity have flirted with relegation all season but here, in the shadows of the construction work that will transform their crumbling but beloved Belle Vue home, they took a sizeable step towards securing their top-flight status.
Toulouse’s defeat at Warrington on Thursday night left the door ajar for Wakefield to open up a four-point gap at the bottom with four games remaining. They did that in surprisingly stress-free fashion and, given the fact Toulouse’s run-in involves games against three of the top four, the cards are now firmly stacked against the French side extending their time in Super League into a second season. Wakefield, to their credit, deserved this victory and the likely rewards that will come with it.
This was also a decisive day at the summit, too. With St Helens trouncing Hull further down the M62, it means Wigan trail the reigning champions by six points with four games to play. The Warriors will now have to settle for second place at best, though they could still be caught by either Huddersfield or Catalans, and given finishing in the top two means having the opening week of the playoffs free, Wigan’s season could still have plenty left riding on them.
They were well beaten here and could have few complaints. Trinity handled the intense heat the better, with a largely error-free first half reducing the amount of time they had to defend in energy-sapping conditions. They crafted a deserved 18-6 lead by the break and, from there, never really looked back. “Every win is important but this one counts for a lot,” their coach Willie Poching said. “We’re not done yet, there’s four games to come and we’ll have to deliver that again I feel.”
Wigan’s afternoon was summed up by the profligacy of their two most dependable attacking stars, Jai Field and Bevan French. While Field crossed for a try in the final minutes, by then the result had been decided. A 12-point lead at half-time was always going to be telling given the conditions and the Warriors were unable to claw their way back into contention against a Wakefield side who defended commendably throughout.
“It’s a missed opportunity to put some distance between ourselves and the teams below us,” their coach, Matt Peet, said. “Wakefield started the game better than us and managed it really well. We never put it together for long enough. They were very good.”
Wakefield took the lead when quick hands to the right freed Lee Kershaw, who finished well in the corner. That lead was then extended when the outstanding Jacob Miller sent Jai Whitbread across for their second try.
Errors in this heat were always likely to be magnified, and when Sam Halsall’s knock-on afforded Wakefield another chance to attack, they took full advantage when Miller stepped past two Wigan defenders superbly. Halsall did redeem himself when he finished a French break, but a penalty from Lino extended the lead at the interval.
The first try after half-time always felt pivotal and when Wakefield scored it through Kelepi Tanginoa, the balance of power swung firmly in the hosts’ favour. Wigan huffed and puffed with little success thereafter and while Field’s consolation narrowed the deficit, it was fitting Wakefield rounded off the scoring when Lewis Murphy intercepted a Field pass to race the length of the pitch and decisively move Trinity a step closer to Super League survival.