WAKEFIELD Trinity Wildcats full-back Richie Mathers will take a rich experience of big-game matches into this season’s Super League play-offs.
The 28-year-old has suffered joy and despair in Grand Finals, played in Challenge Cup finals and enjoyed victory in a World Club Challenge.
His success is such that last season was the first in which he missed out on the post-season competition, with parent club Castleford Tigers, in his career.
Saturday’s elimination play-off clash against Leeds Rhinos will therefore be a welcome return to the big stage for a player who started his senior career at Headingley Carnegie.
“Last year was the first year I wasn’t involved in the play-offs,” he said.
“I’ve won a Grand Final and I’ve lost one but it’s not just me who has that experience in the squad though, we have others like Ali Lauitiiti, who played in lots of Grand Finals with Leeds.
“We also have others who haven’t, those who’ll be experiencing the play-offs for the first time in their careers and I think we have a good mix.
“Each play-off campaign, each Challenge Cup campaign, brings new experiences and new twists and turns and I’m sure we’ll have that this season.”
Wildcats booked their place in the top-eight thanks to a club-record seven straight Super League wins.
Mathers admits the play-offs weren’t set in stone as a target at the start of the season for a newly-constructed Wildcats squad.
But hard work and a great team spirit has helped Wildcats reach the standards Mathers says his team-mates all believed they could reach from Round 1.
“It was never about the top eight,” he said.
“We had a plan at the start of the season when we were sat in a room in Wales [for a pre-season training camp] that’d we’d try to get to a consistent level in our play at a good standard and see what followed.
“That was our aim and we’ve achieved that. Our success is a testament to the tight squad and the good group of lads that are here.
“There’s been no magic formula. We’ve stuck to the same principles all through the season and now it’s started to click.”
He continued: “At the start of the season nobody gave us a chance but we always believed we could do it.
“It’s been a culmination of a lot of hard work and other things coming together for us this season.”
The full-back, who’s played in all 27 Super League matches for Wakefield this season, has also enjoyed proving the doubters wrong in 2012.
Wakefield had been tipped to struggle this season, and even to finish rock-bottom by some, and he’s hoping Wildcats can continue to cause a stir this weekend.
“Everyone thought we were a group of misfits who were just thrown together at the start of the season,” he commented.
“I think that was a bit disrespectful to the club. There were sections of the media that labelled us like that and I think we’ve proven a lot of them wrong.”
He continued: “Nobody gives us a chance on Saturday and we enjoy having that.
“The pressure is off us, it’s all on Leeds because they’re the champions and that’s what we like.
“We know it’s going to be tough because they have world-class players in key positions but we’ve had good games against them this season and hopefully we can have another this weekend.”
Mathers has enjoyed his season-long loan spell at Wakefield from Castleford and he’s hoping to make the move permanent.
“It’s something we’ve been working on all season really,” he said.
“It doesn’t make it easy because the deal’s between two rivals but hopefully something can be sorted out sooner rather than later.”
See this week’s Wakefield Express for all the latest Wakefield Trinity Wildcats news.