A badly depleted Wakefield go into their opening game of the Super League season today hoping to draw inspiration from two sources. The Wildcats are without eight players for their game at Wigan, including major contributors such as their scrum-half Danny Brough, the forwards Richard Moore and Tevita Leo-Latu and threequarters Matt Petersen and Ryan Atkins. Even their coach, John Kear, is on sticks following a hip-replacement operation.
But the badly wounded club plan to draw strength from a far worse blow during the close season. Their 31-year-old forward Adam Watene collapsed and died during a weights session in October. In one sense, Wakefield have not yet recovered from that shock; in another, they have committed themselves to using that tragedy as a motivation.
Their captain, Jason Demetriou, will today wear his good friend's No 8 shirt for the first time in a conscious homage to Watene. "I didn't want to wear it for the pre-season friendlies because I wanted it to be special," he said. "It is possible that the emotion could give us that extra energy and drive, and that would be the most fitting memorial to Adam." But Demetriou added: "There is such a thing as starting a game with too much emotion, and we have to guard against that."
Even Kear admitted that he does not know how the tragedy will affect his players. "We're in uncharted territory here because none of us has ever experienced anything like this," he said. "In many ways it has knocked the stuffing out of the club, but the best thing we could do in Adam's memory would be to go out and have a really good season."
One factor which Demetriou and Kear believe will help them achieve that is the experience Wakefield's players gained during the World Cup. The tournament might have been a bitter disappointment for England but for players such as Damien Blanch, Scott Grix and Sean Gleeson of Ireland and Scotland's Oliver Wilkes it was the high point of their careers so far. All four will be playing their first competitive match since the World Cup today, and Demetriou said they can all build on their impressive form in Australia: "They all had a great World Cup and that experience will help them continue the form they showed last season.
"Oliver Wilkes had a great first season with us," he added. "It just shows that people are wrong when they say there's no talent in the lower divisions."
Kear delved into those divisions again to sign Hunslet's 19-year-old hooker Luke Blake on a part-time contract. By comparison, Wigan have a wealth of proven ability to draw upon, with their new Australian signings, Mark Riddell and Amos Roberts, set to make their competitive debuts. Trent Barrett has gone but the Wigan coach, Brian Noble, believes the new men will add plenty to his squad.
"They bring a great deal of experience at the top level in the NRL," he said. "Mark is not only a great player, he's a great person to have around the place and he has the advantage of having worked a lot with Tim Smith. Amos's try-scoring record speaks for itself. He has scored tries wherever he's been and he can play anywhere from one to six."
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