Wakefield Trinity: The Wimbledon of Super League

They were the club that just wouldn’t let go of Super League.

Whether it be the dramatic escape of the Battle of Belle Vue in 2006, or the shock demise of Crusaders that basically reprieved Wakefield ahead of the 2012 license decision, Trinity have clung on to the place in the top flight.

And they are now more than well worth their place in the competition.

“I like to compare ourselves to Wimbledon of the Premier League,” said chairman, Michael Carter. “They managed to go 20 odd years punching above their weight and I think we are a club like that.

“I pride myself on honesty and integrity and I try to do what’s best for Wakefield Trinity and for the game as a whole.

“I think we can be everyone’s second favourite club, that are doing it tough but try to entertain while they’re doing it.

“I hope we give hope to other clubs that are similar to ourselves. It’s great to be part of it.”

With back-to-back fifth placed finishes on a budget dwarfed by those around them, Trinity have established themselves as a team that nobody wants to play against, developing unfashionable players to form a formidable outfit playing good rugby, and shown a model for progress, despite carrying the burden of their dilapidated old ground.

It is worth noting that Wakefield, promoted via the first ever Division One Grand Final in 1998, are in Super League on merit and only Hull (though let’s not pull at that thread), Leeds, St Helens, Warrington and Wigan have been in the competition longer than them.

In four of their first five seasons in the top flight, they finished second from bottom, avoiding relegation by the skin of their teeth. Some 12 years later, they took part in the first ever Million Pound Game, beating Bradford to preserve their Super League status once again.

And since, they’ve been on a steady progression on and off the pitch.

“I got reminded of that Million Pound Game recently as three years ago today, it’s just fantastic how far we’ve come,” said Carter.

“There are no short cuts in rugby league, you’ve got to believe what you’re doing, take gradual steps, make sure the foundations are right and that’s what we’ve tried to do.

“It’s credit to the players, Chezzy (Chris Chester) and all his coaching staff because they’re the guys that do it on the field, it’s pretty easy for me sat off it, I set out the budget and Chezzy works to it.”

Marquee players have been one of the talking points of this off-season, with Leeds, St Helens and Warrington all spending big on overseas imports to take them to the next level.

But splashing the cash hasn’t been Wakefield’s style – they haven’t really got much for a start – but instead they have picked up unwanted players from elsewhere and they undoubtedly have had the most value out of that over recent years.

Carter continued: “I think the bottom line for me is we manage to get massive value for money out of everybody we employ, and I’m not just talking about players and coaches; it’s all the backroom staff, the administration staff, they all absolutely bust a gut because they love Wakefield Trinity.

“I’ve got no doubt that they could get higher pay elsewhere but they genuinely love the club and they go the extra yard just to make sure the club functions and that allows me and Chezzy and everyone else to sit down and plough as much money as we can into the first team.

“Touch wood, it’s worked so far, the challenge for me now is I’ve got to get the revenue base up because I need to provide more funds for Chezzy for the first team.

“It’s nice we can still punch above our weight, we’ve had back to back fifth placed finishes and hopefully the same or at least next year and we’ll be in the play-offs.

“It’s just a fantastic time to be involved with the club.”

The chairman was proudly telling the story of the current stars of this 145-year-old club at the Super League Dream Team launch, which saw three of his players – Bill Tupou, Matty Ashurst and Tom Johnstone – selected, a number bettered only by runaway league leaders St Helens.

To put that in to context, they had only had five players selected in the previous 20 years – Gareth Ellis (2003), Sid Domic and David Solomona (2004), Jason Demetriou (2007) and Danny Kirmond (2013).

Captain Kirmond is a good example of the ethos instilled within the club, staying loyal to Trinity despite offers from elsewhere – and the same can be said, for now, of both Bill Tupou and Tom Johnstone, who would be of interest to many a Super League club, and daresay even some in the NRL.

Given the budget constraints, retaining these players is a challenge but one that Carter sees as a priority, and perhaps even more important than recruiting from elsewhere.

He added: “Everyone is asking about other players that you’re going to bring in, but the most important thing was retaining what we had. We’ve got Tom (Johnstone) four years, Reece (Lyne) four years, Milky (Jacob Miller) four years, Bill’s (Tupou) got another two, we’ve got a lot of our players signed up for long term and there’s a philosophy going round Super League at the minute that what you’ve got you keep, because there’s not a great deal of quality out there to bring into the club, so that’s a massive part of it for us as well.”

They have recruited strongly for 2019 too, adding four solid signings including the returning, mercurial Danny Brough, highly-rated forward Craig Kopczak and relative youngsters George King and Ben Reynolds, with only Liam Finn and Scott Grix going out the exit door.

No doubt the biggest hindrance for Wakefield is the continuing frustration over the development of a new stadium.

With both themselves and neighbours Castleford in the same boat, talks and plans for a new home for the club have been rumbling on for more than a decade, and don’t seem to be any closer to finalisation.

It’s led to some tricky times for Trinity, who even announced they would leave Belle Vue at the end of 2015, and following its sale in 2016, they have had some issues negotiating rent and also with the facilities.

Considering their current on-field success, it would be an ideal time to move in to a new modern facility, and perhaps even enable Wakefield to truly compete long-term for silverware at the top of the game.

“We’re trying to get a new agreement put together that provides for the community stadium, it’s been a long old haul.

“It started well before my time, probably looking at 40 years now of frustration, but we’ve had a couple of positive meetings with the council recently and hopefully we’re heading in the right direction and get to announce something soon.

“My biggest fear is that whilst we’re doing so well on the pitch, one day Super League is going to come knocking and say ‘guys you’ve had enough time here, it’s not good enough here anymore’ so we’ve got to get something resolved and hopefully we can get that done.

“We’ve still not agreed a deal with the landlord next year but I’m hopeful we can have one last year at Belle Vue and come the last kick of next season be ready to go to a new stadium, not being ready but ready to start on it and get it built because the city of Wakefield is crying out for a top class sporting facility.”