AFTER SPENDING last season battling to get into the Qualifiers, Keegan Hirst’s focus is now on avoiding them.
Hirst has joined Wakefield Trinity following an historic campaign when he captained Batley Bulldogs to third place in the Kingstone Press Championship.
That earned them a crack at top-flight sides Leeds Rhinos, Salford Red Devils, Huddersfield Giants and Hull KR in the middle-eights and gave Hirst an indication of what to expect in his new full-time career.
The 28-year-old front-rower will make his first appearance for Trinity when they defend the Wetherby Whaler Festive Challenge trophy against Leeds at Headingley on Boxing Day and he is hoping it is the start of a second successive Super-8s push for Wakefield.
“You aim for the top-eight, make sure you get in there and not the middle-eights and then reassess after that,” Hirst said.
“Then you see where you’re at and if you can get further up the ladder.
“Obviously last season Wakefield got into the top-eight and then didn’t win a game in the Super-8s.
“Obviously that’s something we are looking to improve on this year.
“I think getting in there is going to be tough because everyone’s scrapping for survival .
“I think with Leigh getting promoted, Super League teams really won’t want to be in the bottom-four because they won’t be able to think ‘if we get in there we’ll be all right’.
“In that first year, when Leigh fell away, I think Super League teams kind of thought they’d be all right even if they got in the bottom-four. But now I think there will definitely be a real urgency not to be in that situation.”
Despite what they achieved last term, Hirst reckons Wakefield have a squad of players with a point to prove.
Members of last season’s team are determined to show their improvement wasn’t a one-off, while Hirst is one of those aiming to highlight his Super League class.
“We have people who want to do well for lots of reasons,” he said. “I don’t think anyone expects us to do anything.
“When Wakefield got in the top-eight last year everyone was a bit surprised.
“Salford had the points deducted, so everyone wants to prove it wasn’t a flash in the pan.
“When you get that, everyone wanting to prove a point, you get a real coming together and a real go-forward attitude that will hopefully push us over the line in the top-eight.”
Monday’s pre-season opener will be a first indication of how Wakefield might do in the new campaign.
Hirst is no stranger to Boxing Day games after his spells with Dewsbury and Batley, who also meet every Christmas and he is relishing the chance to show what he can do after almost two months’ training.
“When I signed here I didn’t realise Wakefield would have a game,” he admitted.
“I thought I’d be able to have a few beers on Christmas Day, but then when I signed Chris [Chester, Wakefield’s coach] said you will be playing on Boxing Day!
“It’s nothing new, so it’s all right and it’s at Leeds.
“I have had a taste of that and I am looking forward to it.
“They will get a good crowd and it’ll be a good occasion.”