On this very day just one year ago, Wakefield supporters and chairman Michael Carter were trying to stump up the energy in preparation for their penultimate game of the regular Super League season.
Having already seen their team slump to 18 defeats in 21 league outings, and many of those reverses being heavy and sometimes embarrassing, you couldn’t really have blamed anyone for deciding to give another punch to the gut a miss when the Castleford Tigers came to town. Alas, Cas notched 58 points on yet another miserable afternoon, and despite a plethora of signings, relegation looked very much a reality for the tame Wildcats.
However, in what can only be described as a staggering turnaround, just 12 months later the Wildcats have secured their place in the top eight thanks to Hull FC’s victory over Hull KR on Thursday. A combination of impressive recruitment, the rise of the club’s brightest young talents and the exceptional appointment of Chris Chester have provided the club with the vital cogs to turn the fortunes of the team around in quick and emphatic fashion.
Chester’s arrival at the club appears to be the overriding factor in the club’s upturn in fortunes, with his arrival coinciding with a staggering run of form the launched them from the bottom of the league towards the top four. While the Wildcats have stuttered in recent weeks, there’s no questioning the impact the former Hull KR coach has had on his new club. It’s easy to forget that Chester was sacked at the start of the season by Hull KR after they also endured a difficult start. Having your contract ripped up normally consigns you to the coaching scrapheap for a long time, sometimes permanently, so for the former Wigan player to get a job so quick and then perform the miracles that we’ve seen has seen his stock increase massively in the space of four months. Not only has he got the best out of a squad that looked ominously poor under Brian Smith at times this season, but he has also nurtured the likes of Tom Johnstone and Max Jowitt, who have flourished under their new coach.
But not only does the coach deserve praise, but the players too. Certain individuals that struggled to express themselves last year have been outstanding this year. The likes of Tinirau Arona, Scott Moore and Anthony England have injected much needed presence to the team while Jacob Miller and Liam Finn have formed a fantastic partnership that gets the best out of both of them.
And enormous praise goes to Michael Carter, who even in the lowest of the lows remained optimistic and passionate about the club. The image of the chairman, fists aloft as Wakefield secured their safety in the Million Pound Game last year was a fantastic moment, and his determination to avoid a similar situation this year has paid dividends. Without his resources and his constant public support, Wakefield’s job would have been just that little bit harder
Wakefield now get to enjoy the final two months of the season without the threat of relegation, which itself is a massive boost both financially and in their planning for the 2017 season. Recruitment becomes easier with the club’s Super League status confirmed, while the additional money will prove useful too. Additionally, with the top four probably out of reach, the opportunity to put added focus on the Challenge Cup semi-final with Warrington is a huge advantage. Victory in that game would make this remarkable story a fairytale.
Progression is still needed at the club, with the saga around the stadium needing a swift conclusion, but their improvements this year have fast tracked them nearer to where they want to be.