THE BITTER Challenge Cup disappointment came a round early for Wakefield Trinity this season.
Embarrassed 56-12 by Warrington Wolves in last year’s semi-final, they hoped to redeem themselves for that by beating Salford Red Devils in Thursday night’s last-eight meeting.
However, Chris Chester’s side – despite winning here 34-24 in Super League just 11 days previously – were outclassed again following a wretched display that ended any hopes of a first Wembley appearance since 1979.
Lacklustre Wakefield were unrecognisable from the side that had gone on a seven-game winning run before losing narrowly against Leeds Rhinos on Saturday and were 30-0 down by the 48th minute.
Granted, they had selection issues having been shorn by injury of props David Fifita and Mitch Allgood, James Batchelor and leading try-scorer Ben Jones-Bishop from last weekend’s squad.
Furthermore, winger Bill Tupou pulled out during the warm-up prompting a late call for Ashley Gibson and they were already without captain Danny Kirmond, Tom Johnstone, Tinirau Arona and Jacob Miller.
Still, the side Chester fielded were capable of much more and, given their competitive nature in 2017, he will be disappointed they did not give a Salford side – aiming to avoid a third straight defeat – more of a contest.
He sprang a surprise by starting with Adam Walker, the recently signed prop who returned from a knee injury after just three weeks when initially ruled out for 10.
The former Hull KR forward, though, clearly looked unfit as second-placed Salford – with the rampaging second-row Ben Murdoch-Masila in terrific form – meticulously went about securing their place in Sunday’s semi-final draw.
Wakefield were 12-0 behind inside just 13 minutes, Ryan Lannon benefitting scruffily after Michael Dobson had possession stripped from him and them Murdoch-Masila starting his torment, ripping through Michael Sio’s attempted tackle after Dean Handley’s needless offload gifted Salford the ball.
There was a strange uneasiness about the visitors’ back-three, none of whom seemed to want to claim any of Dobson or Robert Lui’s high kicks, which caused more mayhem in the ranks.
Dobson added a penalty to the first two of his four conversions and Wakefield did not even get into their rivals’ 20 with the ball until the 25th minute.
That attack amounted to nothing and when they did force a drop-out of their own, Keegan Hirst spilled on the second tackle.
The game was essentially over after Chris Annakin conceded another cheap penalty and Niall Evalds finished off wide out through some paperthin defence in the 35th minute for Dobson to send his side in 20-0 ahead.
Trinity needed to score first in the second period but a sublime flick pass from Murdoch-Masila, who was just too strong to handle, saw Greg Johnson extend Salford’s lead in the 43rd minute.
Soon after, former Huddersfield Giants prop Craig Kopczak shrugged off more poor defence to stretch out to score again, the visitors at least avoiding being left pointless when Liam Finn scrambled over for his first try of the season but that did not come until the 72nd minute and he also converted his effort.
Salford Red Devils: Evalds; Johnson, Welham, Sa’u, Bibby; Lui, Dobson; Tasi, Tomkins, Kopczak, Murdoch-Masila, Lannon, Flanagan. Subs: Griffin, Brining, Carney, Hauraki.
Wakefield Trinity: Grix; Lyne, Gibson, Arundel, Caton-Brown; Williams, Finn; England, Wood, Walker, Hadley, Ashurst, Sio. Subs: Crowther, Annakin, Hirst, Huby.
Referee: Robert Hicks (Oldham).