RL Retro: Wakefield’s great escape

Watch the 2006 Super League relegation decider between Wakefield Trinity and Castleford Tigers from 8pm on Sky Sports Arena on Friday

Last Updated: 19/06/20 9:28am

John Kear and Monty Betham celebrate Wakefield's victory which kept them in Super League
John Kear and Monty Betham celebrate Wakefield’s victory which kept them in Super League

On September 16, 2006, in front of a record Super League attendance at Belle Vue of more than 11,000 spectators, one side was guaranteed safety and the other would be relegated from the top-flight.

Wakefield Trinity were playing at home against Castleford Tigers in what was the most crucial showdown between the two since their meeting in the 1969 Challenge Cup semi-final for a place at Wembley.

It was no surprise it was Trinity’s biggest home attendance in over 30 years.

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“I remember arriving at the ground and it was still. There were thousands of people, there was people everywhere,” former Wakefield captain Jason Demetriou told Sky Sports. “But the atmosphere at the start of the game and in warm-up was dead silent.”

John Kear was appointed head coach of Wakefield in July of that year.

When he arrived, his new team were bottom of the table, two points adrift of Catalans Dragons, who were in their first year of the competition and exempt from relegation. It was Wakefield who were favourites to go down.

With relegation seemingly inevitable, the question could be asked – why would Kear take the job?

There were thousands of people, there was people everywhere. But the atmosphere at the start of the game and in warm-up was dead silent.

Jason Demetriou

“There were a couple of things, but the main one was I was out of a job. I had been sacked by Hull. I was looking around and Wakefield obviously did appeal,” Kear recalled.

“The main thing that appealed to me was the fact that the playing roster, I felt, was underachieving. You look down their list; David Solomona, Jamie Rooney, Jason Demetriou – they had absolute quality throughout.”

Kear revealed it was the great Neil Fox MBE, a Wakefield icon, who played a big part in Kear getting the job.

“Neil Fox actually came on Sky and he made a very public appeal, so I owe Neil a fair bit for that,” Kear said.

Neil Fox's influence led to John Kear taking the Wakefield job
Neil Fox’s influence led to John Kear taking the Wakefield job

Kear, who initially agreed to an eight-week stay at Belle Vue which would turn into a five-year tenure, had worked out that his new side needed to win four of their last six games, and Demetriou said Kear’s impact was felt immediately.

“John was probably the breath of fresh air we needed,” Demetriou said. “He was hands-on, he was very energetic, and he pumped a lot of belief in us when he first came into the job.”

Demetriou, who has spent the best part of four years coaching under Wayne Bennett at both the Brisbane Broncos and South Sydney Rabbitohs, has compared Kear to the man who is widely considered the best coach in the game.

“When he delivers his message, that’s probably one thing I would say John is slightly better than Wayne in that respect,” Demetriou said.

John was probably the breath of fresh air we needed. He was hands-on, he was very energetic, and he pumped a lot of belief in us when he first came into the job.

Jason Demetriou

“You know Wayne is a fantastic coach in so many areas, but I think John, the way he motivates a group and the themes he puts behind it leading into big games is second to none.

“It’s definitely something I learned a lot from and that I use in my coaching now.”

Castleford, who were coached by Terry Matterson, fielded a team which included a sprinkling of overseas acquisitions and were skippered by the outstanding former Queensland State of Origin prop Danny Nutley.

And it was the Tigers who took control early. After conceding an 11th-minute penalty to Rooney, Castleford showed their class with two tries in an eight-minute spell, from Willie Manu and Adam Fletcher, before Danny Brough’s drop-goal extended their lead to 11-2.

Jason Demetriou admits his try had a touch of good fortune about it
Jason Demetriou admits his try had a touch of good fortune about it

Yet two tries in five minutes just before the interval gave Wakefield a 14-11 advantage. Both had a degree of good fortune about them.

Firstly, Monty Betham kicked the ball and saw it shoot into the hands of James Evans for their opening try. Then, winger Demetriou scored a try when there had been a hint of a knock-on by David Solomona in the lead-up.

“Oh, it’s a knock on every day of the week,” Demetriou admitted. “From a referee’s point of view, once he’s played the ball they can’t go back to it, they can only go back as far as the play the ball.

“In a game of footy, all those little things happen.”

Moments like that is what sport is all about.

John Kear

Castleford skipper Nutley scored the opening try of the second half and Brough’s conversion edged the Tigers back in front at 17-14 with 30 minutes remaining.

But Betham touched down for the Wildcats, which Castleford had no response. Further tries from Kevin Henderson and a second for Evans, plus a drop-goal from Rooney, gave Wakefield a 29-17 victory and, more importantly, meant their status in the top-flight for 2007 was secure.

“It was massive, it really was massive,” Kear said. “The big point about the celebration was, it was when the players came off, you could shake their hand, you could look them in the eye, and you could sense you achieved something very special.

“And moments like that is what sport is all about.”

Source : Sky Sports