THEIR LADBROKES Challenge Cup semi-final proved a game too far for Wakefield Trinity Wildcats.
Wildcats have defied the odds in 2016, but on this occasion the bookmakers got it exactly right.
The sponsors had Warrington Wolves as odds-on favourites to end a run of three successive semi-final defeats, with Wakefield priced at 4/1.
It may have been a more even contest if coach Chris Chester had been able to field his strongest line-up, but injuries have begun to mount and Wildcats were without eight front-line players.
Against a Warrington team at full-strength and running into ominous form, it was always going to be a struggle for patched-up Wakefield – and they were out-classed.
The 56-12 scoreline was painful for Wakefield, but a fair reflection of the gulf between the teams. Several Wakefield players – particularly Ben Jones-Bishop and Danny Kirmond – clearly weren’t match fit, Andy Yates was drafted in for his first appearance in more than two months and the bench also included young forward Jordan Crowther, who was on loan at League One side York City Knights earlier in the season.
Wakefield’s best hope was to catch Warrington in complacent mood, but they fell victim to that last year – when Chester’s Hull KR stunned them at the same stage of the competition – and had learned their lesson.
Wakefield came out firing and led for nine minutes early on, but had little possession or territory after the opening try and pressure eventually told.
Warrington took advantage of Wakefield’s errors and defensive lapses to build a 24-6 interval lead and once they had grabbed the first try after half-time Wakefield were into damage limitation.
It was a thrashing, but Wakefield battled to the end and were visibly lifted in the closing stages by the magnificent support provided by their travelling fans.
They kept up a constant din, despite having little to really cheer about. Wakefield had only a couple of good moments, the first coming after four minutes.
Stefan Ratchford – Warrington’s full-back – conceded a scrum near his side’s line and in the resulting set Scott Moore and Liam Finn worked the ball to Jacob Miller and his long pass picked out Craig Hall unmarked on the left-wing.
He crossed and Finn landed a magnificent conversion from the touchline.
Wakefield’s second and final try came 13 minutes from time. Hall made a break and passed inside. Miller could not pick up, but Max Jowitt did and the young full-back defied two tacklers to touch down.
Referee Gareth Hewer indicated a try and video assistant Phil Bentham gave the green light. Finn added the extras.
Wakefield had only three other chances. The first of those was a key moment in the game, after half an hour with Warrington leading 18-6.
Moore’s pass sent Jason Walton into open space, with team-mates in support, but he hung on too long.
Moore was held up over the Warrington line in the second half and, just after Jowitt’s try, Hall had one ruled out.
He chipped through, regathered and stretched over the line, but Hewer wasn’t convinced and Bentham decided it was a double movement.
A few incidents went against Wakefield early on and Warrington received the game’s first five penalties, which enabled them to build sustained pressure. Deep into the first half Miller was felled by a late shoulder charge from Daryl Clark, but Hewer decided that was worth only a penalty. In the second period David Fifita was sin-binned for a high tackle on Chris Sandow.
At the start of the season Hewer would have been a distant outsider to take control of a Cup semi-final, but he has had a good year and deserved the appointment. Overall he handled the game and occasion well.
Warrington’s first nine tries came from different scorers. Jack Hughes, who had a big game in the second-row, went over for their opener before they showed Wakefield respect by taking the two from a penalty in front of the posts.
Clark, Rhys Evans and Kurt Gidley, who kicked six conversions, also crossed before the break and two tries in as many minutes – both created by Ryan Atkins, with Sandow and Ratchford crossing – ensured there would be no fightback. Ben Currie, Toby King and Ben Westwood added to the haul and Ratchford kicked one conversion before Jowitt’s score. King’s second completed the rout late on.
Wakefield Trinity Wildcats: Jowitt, Jones-Bishop, Lyne, Arundel, Hall, Miller, Finn, Scruton, Moore, Fifita, Walton, A Tupou, Sio. Subs Crowther, Kirmond, Arona, Yates.
Warrington Wolves: Ratchford, Russell, T King, Atkins, Evans, Gidley, Sandow, Hill, Clark, Sims, Currie, Hughes, Westerman. Subs G King, Dwyer, Westwood, Bailey.
Referee: Gareth Hewer (Whitehaven).