THERE must have been a nagging feeling among Wakefield Trinity fans, as their side led 16-0 against Super League leaders Castleford Tigers last night, that their fierce rivals would not play as badly again in the second period.
Daryl Powell’s side certainly did not as they roared back to take an 18-16 lead early in the second period to seemingly take control and plough onto a tenth straight league win.
But imagine Wakefield’s heartache, then, to heroically reclaim the advantage via David Fifita’s 69th-minute try – only to lose it again as Jake Webster crossed in a pulsating derby.
Luke Gale converted that 73rd-minute try – after Bill Tupou spilled a short kick-off following Liam Finn’s penalty – to level the contest.
A draw would arguably have been a fair result. Yet luckless Trinity were left ruined once more as Gale, the England scrum-half, held his nerve to slot the match-winning drop goal with just 99 seconds remaining to open up a 10-point lead at the top of Super League.
Three tries in the space of just 13 minutes at the start of the second period saw relieved Castleford start their rescue mission.
Wakefield will bemoan the error from Joe Arundel – recalled after Reece Lyne failed to overturn a two-game ban – when the former Tigers centre spilled deep in the visitors’ territory.
The ball soon found its way to Greg Eden and the competition’s leading try scorer raced 80m for his 35th try of the year.
Gale slotted the first of his four conversions and, when Scott Grix failed to take a high kick soon after, Daryl Powell’s side were in again. Whereas in the first period they had needlessly forced passes, this time they methodically pulled Trinity around before Grant Millington finally exploited a chink.
After Nathan Massey’s break split Wakefield’s middle, the leaders executed well again as Benny Roberts found Greg Minikin, the fit-again winger, who turned in field and found Mike McMeeken.
The England second-row barged over for Gale to put his side ahead for the first time in the 55th minute but there was so much more drama to come.
Wakefield were superb for that 16-0 interval advantage, their line rarely even threatened by their usually prolific rivals who, strangely, remained tryless for two successive halves having also failed to cross after the break in Friday’s win over Hull FC.
With loose forward Tinirau Arona setting a terrific lead, and benefitting from three hefty props – Fifita, Anthony England and Keegan Hirst – coming off the bench, Chris Chester’s side had no issues moving upfield.
That said, they were also aided by some woeful ill-discipline from the visitors, Adam Milner, in particular, conceding two in quick succession for needlessly lying on to gift Liam Finn two points.
There were two high tackles in their own half as well from Massey – on the excellent Craig Huby – and McMeeken, who felled Matty Ashurst to further invite Trinity.
Zak Hardaker heaped pressure on his side by sailing a restart dead and he also fumbled trying to play the ball just 20m from his own line as Castleford seemed to lose their cool in the stifling heat.
Their usually slick style looked absent from the off when, having ventured into Wakefield’s 20 three times in the opening skirmishes, including from a Gale 40/20 kick, they managed to spill the ball each time.
Michael Shenton and Gale both coughed up but Jesse Sene-Lefao was the worst offender, hitting and spinning out of a tackle only to offload straight to Wakefield’s Dean Hadley.
Sensing the opportunity, the on-loan Hull FC second-row immediately fed Ben Jones-Bishop who raced 75m for his 17th try in 18 games.
Wakefield further demonstrated their intent by gang-tackling England star McMeeken into touch after the hulking second-row dared to try and get on the outside from inside his own half.
Kyle Wood celebrated like Trinity had won the Grand Final – the hooker realised the importance of the play.
When they did get a rare chance, Webster looked certain to get in at the corner but the usually reliable Kiwi spilled stretching over.
Eden did get over in scrappy circumstances but video referee Phil Bentham ruled it out.
Instead, Grix made a fine break down the left, evading some meek defence, and, though Tupou was hauled in, Wood sniped over from close range in the 27th minute.
Finn converted and added a penalty to leave Wakefield in dreamland. It did not last long as they lost a seventh consecutive game against their derby foes.
Wakefield Trinity: Grix, Jones-Bishop, Arundel, Tupou, Caton-Brown, Williams, Finn, Walker, Wood, Huby, Ashurst, Hadley, Arona. Substitutes: Annakin, Hirst, England, Fifita.
Castleford Tigers: Hardaker, Minikin, Webster, Shenton, Eden, Roberts, Gale, Massey, McShane, Millington, Sene-Lefao, McMeeken, Milner. Substitutes: Lynch, Springer, Patrick, Foster.
Referee: C Kendall (Huddersfield).