Richard Agar’s delight at seeing his understrength Wakefield Wildcats side give Super League leaders Wigan Warriors a real scare on Sunday was tinged with disappointment that they could not hold out for a famous victory.
Wildcats, without five senior players through injury, were on course for a shock win as they led a Warriors side on an eleven-match winning run with ten minutes to go at the Rapid Solicitors Stadium.
Shaun Wane’s men hit back with two late tries and a penalty, however, to take the two points back across the Pennines with a 36-23 win as Wakefield tired in the latter stages following their valiant efforts before.
The defeat was Wildcats’ fourth on the spin but the performance left Agar able to take plenty of positives going forward this season.
“Undoubtedly we’re disappointed that, having led for so long, we didn’t come away with the victory,” said the Wakefield head coach.
“I don’t think we could have asked for much more effort and commitment from the group of players that were out there and in the end energy got us.
“I’ll use Matty Wildie as an example. I think he’s played four games this year and we haven’t been able to get him much football on dual registration or loan, and he’s had to play 80 minutes in the middle of the park. I think he did it wonderfully.
“We’ve probably three or four guys who are short of a lot of game time at this level who we had to rely on to play a lot longer than we would have expected before the match.
“They [Wigan] got some momentum but we felt we had chances to break that momentum. We came out with a forward pass late on and then kicked out on the full. I thought they were really big turning points, coupled with the 40/20 which I thought was a really big play for them.”
Agar called for a big response from his men following disappointing defeats against Castleford Tigers and Hull KR in Wakefield’s previous two matches - and he was delighted to get just that.
“Someone’s just asked me about losing four games on the trot and sometimes that’s going to happen,” he commented.
“It’s about keeping your nerve in those situations and we’ve had experiences of being there before. But the manner of our last two defeats has been disappointing and left us head scratching a little bit.
“We needed to show a response. We had a tough week knowing we were going to lose a lot of players. We lost some to injury, some guys were unavailable and it threw our preparation into a little bit of disarray.
“We knew that with so many changes we wouldn’t be as fluent with the ball in hand. We wanted our guys to front up and rip in, and I thought they did that manfully, and energy just got the better of us in that last ten minutes.”
Lee Smith and Danny Kirmond picked up knocks in the match but both are expected to be fit and available for next Monday’s trip to Salford City Reds.
Agar also confirmed that Ali Lauitiiti, Paul Aiton, Paul Sykes and Tim Smith, who all missed Sunday’s game through injury, should be ready for a return next week, but Andy Raleigh, a late withdrawal, is a doubt.