Wakefield had their first opportunity to show off the new Neil Fox Stand at Belle Vue as they hosted the Championship season launch on Friday.
While it won’t be hosting Super League in 2024, there is plenty of reason for optimism at the ground now known as the DIY Kitchens Stadium.
Following the takeover by Matt Ellis in the off-season, Wakefield have been installed as heavy favourites to win the Championship title this season and have been buoyed by significant season ticket sales, as they look to re-engage supporters after a tricky couple of years.
Of course, promotion won’t just be earned on the pitch this season, with the IMG grading criteria coming in to force, so Wakefield’s ground improvements could hardly have come at a better time.
Now christened in honour of the club’s greatest ever player, the 2,500-seater stand adds a completely new dimension to a ground that has hosted rugby league since the sport’s formation in 1895.
The Championship season launch took place in the new hospitality lounge, situated at the back of the new stand, with its central doors opening out on to a viewing area.
The new press box is situated to the right of the lounge, with blue, white and red seats all around.
The view from the new press box at Wakefield, plus a few others of the new stand.
— James Gordon (@jdgsport) January 19, 2024
Wakefield Trinity putting the foundations in place to get back to Super League
It’s a facility that should now provide the platform for Wakefield to move forward to bright a long-term future with Ellis at the helm.
Invited on stage to speak to host Ross Fiddes at the launch, Ellis expressed his anticipation at getting started.
He said: “When we took over, we wanted to be positive, build a squad, get Daryl (Powell, coach) in and put the foundations in place to get us back to Super League.
“It’s going to be a tough league and we’ll give full respect to the Championship. I’m looking forward to going to new grounds that I’ve not been in my 20 years or so of being a fan, and meeting everybody in the competition.
“I’m trying to make the club successful. I’ve been supporting this club for 20 years, I’ve always wanted to do it, but when you’re running a business, you’ve got to give it the time, and probably last year was the first time I felt that I had the time and it was doable for the first time.
“When he was at Cas, they built year on year and were punching above their weight, building a great club.
“I knew the rebuild here would be right up his street, we hit it off straight away and started speaking morning, noon and night about what we’re going to do here.”
Players and coaches from Championship and League 1 coaches attended the event, alongside RFL chief executive Tony Sutton, RL Commercial managing director Rhodri Jones and Mark Pearson from sponsors Betfred.
There were no details on a possible Championship TV deal, which is believed to be under discussion, although Jones was keen to point out the availability of Our League to show games.
The expanded 1895 Cup is set to get the season under away for Championship and League 1 clubs at the end of this month, with 21 teams competing in the group stage. In recent years, the 1895 Cup has been limited to the last four or five non-Super League clubs left in the Challenge Cup.
Jones pointed at the inspiration of Leigh, who won the 1895 Cup in 2022 and went on to lift the Challenge Cup at Wembley in 2023.
He said: “There will be a lot of excitement for Wakefield about the possibility of getting to Wembley for the first time since 1979. It is great to be here and be part of I believe the first event held in the Neil Fox stand.”