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Monday, 20 October 2014

Our own superman

WHILE the Super League season kicks off in earnest this weekend, for Ulverstonian Oliver Wilkes it has already begun.

Wilkes was part of the Wakefield Trinity Wildcats side that stunned Wigan Warriors – and most observers – with their 12-6 victory at the JJB Stadium last week.

One of five South Cumbrians in Super League this season – the Gardner brothers, Ade and Matt, Ben Harrison and Peter Lupton are the others – the 28-year-old prop forward played his part as the Wildcats produced the first shock of the season in only the second game.

Now in his second season at Belle Vue, Wilkes knows there were very few people who expected his side – tipped by many pundits to finish near the foot of the table – to triumph against one of his old sides.

“I don’t think Wigan expected it either!” the former Keighley, Whitehaven and Widnes man said.

“It’s right what (Wigan coach) Brian Noble said that we did catch them cold, but to our credit, we managed to limit them to one try after going 10-0 up.

“We managed to hold them out for the rest of the game, which is promising for us.

“We’ve done a lot of work in defence this year, which has already paid dividends.

“We got a few repeat sets against us and gave a couple of penalties away, so we had to out our bodies on the line. We had to work hard, push for each other and work as a team.”

Wakefield currently have a bare bones squad to work with, injuries and illness denying them the services of Danny Brough, Danny Sculthorpe and Richard Moore among others.

But the youngsters who have come in in their place have impressed and are pushing for regular spots, with Wilkes knowing he himself needs to stay on form to keep a starting spot in the pack.

“There was a lot of enthusiasm coming from the young kids who had been given the opportunity and there are going to be guys coming back over the next few weeks who are going to have to earn their places again,” he said.

“These young lads have come in with enthusiasm and the desire to win.

“Hopefully I can be in the first team squad every week, but it only takes one game to slip up and there is always someone chomping at your heels to get your shirt.

“There are two front-rowers who are going to be coming back hunting for a shirt in the near future, but if I’m on top of my game then I should be all right.”

Wilkes knows it will not be easy for any of the teams in Super League to beat any other , with all the sides determined to succeed and not wanting to be seen as walkovers.

Wakefield’s win at Wigan demonstrated that and the Scotland World Cup player – who scored the winning try in their memorable win over Fiji – recognises the strength in depth in the division.

“There are no easy teams in Super League, you can’t say ‘they’re going to beat them and they’re going to beat them’, it’s going to be a tough competition,” he said.

“The likes of Salford and Celtic have come into the competition this year and both teams have recruited really well, there is some quality in those sides.

“Celtic showed against Leeds that if they can keep hold of 50 per cent of the ball – as they did in the second half – they were six-apiece when they did that.

“There are going to be no easy games.”

With that in mind, it is hard for any team, to set themselves goals for the season.

While Saint Helens and Leeds will be favourites to battle it out for the overall crown, there are 12 other teams all determined to reach the play-offs, a feat Wilkes feels Wakefield can achieve.

“The play-offs are our aim,” the former Barrow Academy player said.

“We’ve set a new system up this year and rather than stretching the goals out over the year and having a final goal, we’re taking each game as it comes and just doing all the small things.

“Players are making sure they are doing their jobs and doing their best to help their team-mates the best we can. Hopefully that will come off for us.”

Coach John Kear will have his work cut out to achieve that goal, though the likes of Brough, Tevita Leo-Latu and Matt Peterson will all bring invaluable skills to the set-up when they return from injury.

There is also the presence of Brad Drew to contend with.

The 33-year-old Australian hooker was a key figure in the win at Wigan, his presence in the side emphasised more by his near-departure to Huddersfield in the close-season.

Wilkes knows Drew will be a key player for his side this year, adding: “A lot of the game at Wigan came from his work around the ruck, jumping out from dummy half.

“He’s a good influence as well. He’s a very experienced player, he talks to all the young lads, he helps everybody out and he’s just a good role model for the guys.

“It’s good to have him there.”

The next task for Wilkes and the Wildcats is a trip to Leeds tomorrow, one of the toughest tests in Super League and a real challenge for any team’s ambitions.

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