If there is not one already, a high-profile, written mantra with the message ‘Beware of Desperate Teams’ might be helpful to all players in pretty much any sport, because that desperation referred to can drive any group of players to quite remarkable feats of performance to get the wins they so urgently need, which, it can be said, was much the case with Wakefield Trinity, when Salford Red Devils visited the updated Be Well Stadium, last Friday.
The Salford players will, without the shadow of a doubt, both individually and as part of the group, have been aware of the problems they might face but seemed nevertheless to have been taken by some surprise by the level of their host’s performance, despite having already been similarly caught out in their first encounter at the Salford Stadium, back in March, when they were taken to Golden Point extra time, before sealing the win with a Marc Sneyd drop-goal.
Indeed, that previous experience had possibly weighed on the Yorkshiremen’s minds rather more heavily than it had on those of the Red Devils, thereby adding to their desire and determination, and they had already had the sweet taste of success with their recent defeat of Leeds Rhinos, which had sounded out a warning across the whole of Super League.
Probably, the greatest surprise in this, our latest fixture, was the size of the loss. True, the Salford team had had a short turnaround from the intensity of the home match with Wigan, and of even greater significance was the fact that three-quarters of their spine was missing through injury. Whether those factors were great enough to account for the twenty-six points deficit is for the club’s coaching staff to determine.
For we spectators, it is often difficult to be able to distinguish the degree to which, in this case, Wakefield played extremely well, or whether the Red Devils were more the cause of their own downfall. There were times when they did look rather jaded, particularly in comparison with the Trinity players, who had motivation aplenty with which to energise themselves.
Of considerable significance, in the first half, was that although the two teams had similar completion rates, Wakefield finished theirs really well, with good end-of-set kicks, two penalty goals and three tries. Every score automatically gives that team a repeat set, by means of the kick off going to them, so with those five repeat sets they had quite a lot extra possession with which to attack the Red Devils’ defence.
The gravity of their position in the league was also sufficient to enthuse and energise Wakefield, in defence, to keep making those six groups of ten-metre sprints, at each play-the-ball for as long as was necessary in odrer to hassle and harry the Red Devils whenever they had possession, gaining occasional rewards in forcing occasional errors, which encouraged Trinity to even further effort.
Nevertheless, just when it was beginning to look as though they might come away pointless, the Reds were able to chalk up a score on 63 mins, through Alex Gerrard, who celebrated his return to the side from injury by forcing his way over the line and grounding, close enough to the goals for Sneyd to land a comfortable conversion.
The area in which the Salford players were most found wanting and second best, was their defence which was somewhat static, and was breached on far too many occasions. It is one thing to leak tries towards the end of the game after endless stints of tackling, when fatigue has taken over the whole side, but that was not the case this time.
It was as early as the third minute when their line was first broken to set up a long-range opener, followed by an extremely quick play-the-ball enabling a scoot from dummy half to make the start to their second, on 25 mins, and with a third coming on the 36th, as a result of a ball steal..
An eighteen-point half-time lead is not necessarily a match winning one, but the conceding of the two penalties in kickable positions – an incidental to the game which was to be repeated in full during the second half – added an additional four points to the score, making it appear all the more secure.
Other teams have suffered similar, or even greater unexpected defeats this season, and have put these behind them, going on to recover and improving their form in the following weeks. Time therefore for the Red Devils to follow, for example, in Leeds’s footsteps after their loss at Wakefield, and do so by turning the tables upon the Rhinos themselves, in Round 18 next Sunday.