Kear puts aside home-town loyalties in £1m Super League survival dogfight

Wakefield coach was born opposite Castleford's ground but that will count for nothing tomorrow, writes Dave Hadfield
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Short of being born in the changing rooms, John Kear's links with the club he will try to kick out of Super League tomorrow could not be much closer, nor go back much further.

The Wakefield coach in the relegation decider is as Castleford as they come. He was born at No 41, Wheldon Road, in a now demolished terrace almost opposite the rugby ground, long before anyone thought of calling it The Jungle.

"I did the scoreboard when I was five," he said. "My brother was 13 and it was his job, but he took me along. I always watched them, I played for the under-17s, the under-19s, the reserves and the first team, so you could say I go back a long way with the club."

Kear, by then a PE teacher, became Castleford's first conditioner - and one of the first in the game - in the early 1980s, later working as reserve team coach and assistant to Malcolm Reilly with the first team. Even when he was out of work earlier this season after being sacked by Hull, he could be found in the stand, watching what still feels like his club.

How must it feel, then, to be plotting to send them down this weekend after a match that only one of the neighbouring clubs can survive?

"I'm not looking at it as sending them down," he said. "I'm looking at it as keeping Wakefield up. It's very unfortunate that it's Castleford involved. I'd rather it was another team, but it's not."

When Kear was appointed Wakefield coach, they were 8-1 odds-on favourites for relegation. His calculation then was that four wins in their remaining six games would keep them up and they have so far won three out of five, including an 18-0 win at Castleford and a stirring victory at Bradford last week to set up this showdown.

It has been called the £1m match, because that is roughly what the beaten club will lose when they drop out of Super League. The figure is made up from the loss of £800,000 in Sky television revenue plus the dip in income from sponsorship and smaller crowds. However, Kear has enjoyed his short time at Wakefield so much that he has already signed on for next season, regardless of which division the club are in.

If he had his way, tomorrow's game would not be quite so cut-and-dried. Although he is not an implacable opponent of the whole concept of promotion and relegation, like Castleford's Terry Matterson, he would make one important change.

"You must encourage people to get better and for clubs outside Super League that means promotion, but only if you're better than what you're replacing."

The way he would gauge that would be by pitting the National League One winners against the bottom side in Super League in a play-off.

"A lot of people have told me that they think it's a good idea," he said. "I can't see any downside to it."

Kear's skill in getting a team ready for a crucial match - seen to such great effect in Challenge Cup final victories with Sheffield and Hull - has now made Wakefield the favourites to escape, but he is insulating his side from such expectations.

"Eight weeks ago we were supposed to be dead and buried and we took no notice. We're also taking no notice of people saying we're going to stay up."

If they were to go down, Wakefield would undoubtedly be the best side to do so, as evidenced by the vultures circling around their better players. Their chief executive, Steve Ferres, estimated this week that no fewer than eight other Super League clubs had made offers to their gifted second-rower, David Solomona.

"That's what happens when you're a world-class player," Kear said. "No doubt other players are thinking about their futures, but they are not playing like a team that wants to go. David has been outstanding - he's even played a more conservative game because I've asked him to. Actions speak louder than words and he doesn't want to leave Wakefield."

If they win tomorrow, he won't have to - and there will be another huge campaign medal on John Kear's chest.

"If we stay up, it will be up there with anything I've achieved before," he said. "The atmosphere will be electric and I'm really looking forward to it."

Even if it means the lights going out again for the club he grew up with.

Wakefield v Castleford, Sky Sports 1, tomorrow, 5.45pm

Wakefield and Castleford head to head

Wakefield Trinity

Coach: John Kear

Ground: Belle Vue

Capacity: 11,000

2006 average: 5,021

Years in Super League: 8 (out of 11)

Highest position: 6th (2004)

Major honours: Two championships; five Challenge Cups.

Most famous player: Neil Fox: the game's record point-scorer.

Castleford

Coach: Terry Matterson

Ground: The Jungle

Capacity: 11,750 (2006)

2006 average: 7,096

Years in Super League: 10

Highest position: 5th (1999 and 2000)

Major honours: Four Challenge Cups.

Most famous player: Malcolm Reilly: GB forward, later coach.

Wildcats v Tigers: Two to watch in the battle to claw a way out of the relegation jungle

Wakefield Trinity

David Solomona The standing in the game of the Kiwi second-rower is shown by the way that he will be able to take his pick of top clubs if Wakefield lose and go down. He has had his chances to leave in the past, but genuinely likes the place. With his surging runs, clever kicking game and, most of all, his freakish ability to get the ball out of the tackle, he ranks as the most skilful forward in the game. Kear has used him in a subtly different role, but he is still the player on either side most likely to come up with a match-winning moment.

Castleford

Danny Brough Castleford's obvious weakness from the start of their first season back in Super League was at half-back, but Brough's mid-season signing from Hull has largely cured it. Surprisingly released by the new Hull coach, Peter Sharp, after playing a prominent role in last season's Challenge Cup win under Kear, his kicking game has been the vital factor behind several of Cas's victories. Briefly with Wakefield in his youth, he has a fiery temperament that can be his downfall at times, but he can also get under the skin of the opposition.

Comments