Catalans Dragons 36 Wakefield Trnitiy 24 - Alex Walker weathers storm to stake No 1 claim
AS a full-back by trade, you could forgive Alex Walker for fearing the worst on his return to the Wakefield Trinity side.
Not only had he been drafted into a team that had lost 58-0 against the same opponents just a week previously, this Challenge Cup sixth-round tie was played in wretched conditions that, at times, resembled the 1968 ‘Watersplash final’ that Trinity have become so synonymous with.
It was always going to be a tough assignment for any No 1.
Throw in the fact it was Walker’s first game since March and it could, indeed, have been deemed the perfect storm.
Still, the fact that he was even playing was enough to be thankful for after the 24-year-old had recently and surprisingly found himself on the periphery of Chris Chester’s thoughts.
Walker was heralded on arrival in the off-season after showing his obvious promise in a fine campaign for London Broncos.
He claimed the Trinity No 1 jersey and, even though he missed the opening games through injury, it was obvious both the West Yorkshire club’s other full-backs – Ryan Hampshire and Max Jowitt – were down the pecking order.
Walker started the last three matches before the sport was shut down in March but, since its return, the Scotland international had been overlooked.
Chester signed Tony Gigot four weeks ago on a deal to the end of the season and the France international – who won the Lance Todd Trophy when Catalans won the Cup in 2018 – started Wakefield’s first two games after the season resumed earlier this month. Nevertheless, a dead leg suffered by Gigot in that embarrassing Super League loss against Dragons ensured Walker was back in situ at the weekend.
Asked if he was surprised that the club had moved for the versatile 29-year-old, he said: “When a player of Tony’s calibre becomes available, most clubs are going to go for him.
“He’s an excellent player and can play in different positions so he gives us plenty of coverage.
“There’s competition for places at every club so you just have to try and consolidate your position.
“Here, it’s only hopefully going to bring the best out of players and everyone left out.”
There was hardly anybody left out on Saturday, Trinity’s myriad selection problems – a raft of injuries, Reece Lyne’s ban and Liam Kay being Cup-tied – meaning just Josh Wood and Adam Tangata were dropped from the debacle against Catalans in Super League.
Jowitt was back in as a winger – along with Huddersfield Giants loanee Innes Senior who debuted on familiar ground – and Hampshire carried on at half-back although his kicking game was badly exposed when put up against the excellent James Maloney and Josh Drinkwater.
For all Wakefield continued to show frailties, they delivered a much-improved performance in terms of effort and attitude.
They were trailing just 20-12 when Jay Pitts earned a needless sin-binning in the 55th minute.
It will not be the last time a player loses his cool with Michael McIllorum but, in this instance, it was hard to see why the experienced second-row felt the urge to run in on the Catalans hooker and spark a major brawl. Pitts, who also arrived from London in the winter and had scored two tries here, left with a cut head and a yellow card.
McIllorum was given 10 minutes as well but his side reorganised better, scoring three tries without reply before the duo returned.
David Mead completed his hat-trick with Ben Garcia and Matt Whitley also crossing, Drinkwater continually tormenting Trinity with his teasing left boot. Wakefield finished strongly with tries from Tini Arona and Jacob Miller but too late and now they must turn their attentions back to Super League with a trip to Warrington Wolves on Sunday.
Walker will hope to retain his place and he said: “Hopefully I can get a string of games together now, get some confidence back and get those combinations going with the outside backs. I want to work on a lot of aspects of my game but it’s really about working on my defence and getting into the line and help them out as much as possible.
“Today, though, they put a lot of early kicks in and we have to manage that during the game and work out the best way to defend.”
After a third successive defeat, defending better for longer will be key for all if Chester is going to see his side up and running again.
Catalans Dragons: Morgue; Davies, Folau, Mead, Yaha; Maloney, Drinkwater; Casty, McIllorum, Maria, Whitley, J Tomkins, Garcia. Substitutes: Jullien, Goudemand, Baitieri, Kasiano.
Wakefield Trinity: Walker; Jowitt, Croft, Tupou, Senior; Miller, Hampshire; Fifita, K Wood, Arona, Pitts, Ashirst, Westerman. Substitutes: Crowther, Tanginoa, Navarette, Kopczak.
Referee: C Kendall (Huddersfield).
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