To some extent, the fate of Wakefield was not too dissimilar to that of Salford.
So much early season hype and promise suggested that their side could be challenging in the upper reaches of the league, yet narrow defeats at the wrong times- especially two-point and one-point defeats to St Helens and Hull FC at the start of September- really killed any momentum that Trinity had going forward in the Super 8’s.
Chris Chester’s side will be immensely proud of their performances this year, given that their budget is far less than the likes of Wigan and Warrington.
However, their 32-0 last day victory over the Warriors, among a host of other impressive scalps, has showed that it is sometimes more about team cohesion and togetherness than it is about having the top-paid stars.
Jacob Miller and new-recruit Sam Williams really came to fruition this season, and their partnership, alongside the steady hand of Liam Finn, might be pivotal to more success next time around.
If Wakefield can work on improving their existing squad and maybe adding three of four quality additions across the park, might the Trinity fans dare to dream of possible silverware next season?
Wakefield Grade- B+
It is almost a repeat of Leeds Rhinos 2016 debacle, and has perhaps become a trademark of the Super 8’s and Middle 8’s split; a top side with a large budget and star-studded set of players finding themselves playing against Championship opposition to secure their top-flight futures.
However, this way the case with Warrington, who were largely underwhelming during the 2017 campaign, which sadly signaled the end of Tony Smith’s nine season tenure in charge at the Halliwell Jones Stadium.
One key problem for The Wire during the 2017 campaign was perhaps the inability to replace the creative Chris Sandow upon his untimely departure from the club.
Declan Patton was perhaps the star of Warrington in a creative sense, but Kevin Brown, their off-season signing from rivals Widnes Vikings, was unable to show his talents on a week-by-week basis.
Yes, he showed glimpses of his skill set, but he was unable to prove on a consistent basis why he became a fans favourite alongside fellow Vikings half-back Joe Mellor at the Select Security Stadium.
Young Patton really looked at home when he was played in the number six role, and having Brown alongside him maybe put too much pressure on him to be the creative spark.
Eventually, the Wolves managed to steamroll their way through the Middle 8’s on a high, winning Smith’s last 10 games in charge.
However, with new coach Steve Price taking the reigns and around 10 players departing the club, not least Ashton Sims and Joe Westerman heading to Toronto, this could well be a pivotal off-season for the Wolves.
Their forward pack and half-back slots are in need of some freshening-up, and the sad departure of star man Peta Hiku for family reasons will leave some gaps on the edges too.
With rumours of Tyrone Roberts and Ben Murdoch-Masila heading to the Wolves, If Price and co can highlight the right players, Warrington might well be a formidable side going forward, and will hope to erase the memory of this catastrophic campaign.
Warrington Grade- D-
Despite having to save their Super League lives in a regular season final-game shootout with Catalans Dragons, Denis Betts’ men can be mightily pleased with their performance in a campaign littered with injuries.
For large parts of the season, the Vikings were without half-backs Joe Mellor and Tom Gilmore, meaning that Danny Craven- a man who was told by Betts he was surplus to requirements in the winter break- had to step in.
Craven did a fine job as did Rangi Chase during his short stint in the side before his suspension for banned substances.
However, if Widnes want to improve next season, they must invest in a new creative player to give the side more guidance around the park.
The Vikings secured some impressive results against the likes of Leeds Rhinos at home and Catalans Dragons away during 2017. The key now is to have the ability to compete for 80 minutes on a more regular basis.
They have already signed Will Matthews, a seasoned NRL front-rower, and young forward Sam Wilde from Warrington, who will surely provide more substance up the middle of the park next time around.
If the Vikings don’t keep investing in tried and tested talent, their side, which features a lot of younger academy graduates, may struggle to bed themselves into the top eight.
Widnes Grade- C-
Yet another side with hefty Grand Final ambitions, Shaun Wane’s men ended 2017 with no silverware to show for what had been a very up and down season.
Huge credit must be given to them for reaching the Challenge Cup final, something which every side dreams of achieving.
However, the big challenge for Wigan will be converting cup form into victories week-on-week in league competition; something which they found difficult for spells in the campaign.
Warriors fans might be worried at their side’s reliance on the leadership of skipper Sean O’Loughlin- their side lost every game that he was absent from.
Mr Wane and his team of trusted coaches must try to find a way of coping without their talisman, who has often been unable to complete a full season due to injuries.
If they can solve this problem, they most certainly have the creative backs and robust forward men needed to challenge at the top end of the League.
If O’Loughlin-syndrome hits again in 2018, it could be another case of so near, yet so far for the Cherry and Whites.
Wigan Grade- B-
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