Written by: Tom Benthall
Tom Johnstone scored four tries as Wakefield sailed into the Ladbrokes Challenge Cup quarter-finals with a hard-fought 40-22 win over Toulouse Olympique XIII at Belle Vue.
The Wildcats looked to be in complete control as they raced into a 22-0 lead inside the first 20 minutes, but the French side fought back with two tries either side of half time, reducing the deficit to just six points midway through the second half.
But Trinity held firm in defence and added gloss to the score line late on as 20-year-old Johnstone added to his first half brace by scoring two further tries.
The Wildcats got off to a perfect start as Johnstone crossed for his 10th try of the season inside the first five minutes. Danny Kirmond was tackled high close to the Toulouse line a penalty was given for the home side. On the next play Jacob Miller floated a long pass out wide for Johnstone to score in the corner.
Liam Finn missed the touchline conversion but Trinity did not have to wait long for further points as Miller got himself on the score sheet, dummying before going between defenders and over from close range. Finn added the extras to extend his side’s lead to 10-0.
And the home side maintained their impressive start, as last week’s match winner Craig Hall intercepted a Toulouse pass on his own 30m line and went the length of the field to score under the posts.
Finn added the simple extras from in front of the posts, and the Wildcats found themselves 22-0 up just two minutes later as Johnstone crossed for his second try of the game.
Matty Ashurst broke through the defensive line on halfway, and after exchanging passes with Hall, the second rower got the ball away to Johnstone who scampered in under the posts to give Finn another simple conversion.
After an impressive opening quarter, the Wildcats pushed to extend their lead further, however the visitors grew in confidence and pulled two tries back either side of the half hour mark.
19-year-old centre Gavin Marguerite got the first as he sprinted in to touch down in the right hand corner after some good hands in midfield had kept the ball alive.
Australian full-back Mark Kheirallah was unable to add the conversion, but he was successful in adding the extras to Mourad Kriouache’s try just six minutes later, after the replacement had buried over from dummy half, bringing Toulouse to within 12 points at half time.
The visitors started the second half as they had finished the first, however Wakefield’s defence held firm in an opening period dominated by handling errors and penalties.
Pressure continued to mount on the Wildcats’ line though, and Kuni Minga should have brought Toulouse to within six points, only to drop the ball while reaching out to score over the line.
The error proved costly for the League One side too, as Trinity scored their fifth try from their next set of six.
Man of the match Anthony England continued his impressive display making good yards through the middle, and when Danny Kirmond freed Ben Jones-Bishop down the right, Matty Ashurst picked up the winger’s kick through to score. Finn’s conversion took score to 28-10 and restore his side’s 12 point advantage.
The French side continued to dominate possession though, and reduced the deficit back to 12 when scrum-half Danny Hulme spun away from two Wakefield defenders to score close to the posts, giving Kheirallah another easy conversion.
And Minga made up for his earlier drop, showing impressive strength and speed to break through the Wakefield defence to score on the 69 minute mark. Kheirallah added the extras once again to bring the scores back to 28-22 and set up a grand stand finish.
However Wakefield settled any nerves starting to arise amongst the 2,539 inside Belle Vue, as Johnstone pounced on a loose ball 50 metres out to compete his hat-trick in the corner.
Finn added his fifth successful conversion of the day, and notched his seventh just minutes later as the Wildcats completed the scoring with their seventh try.
Hall stripped the ball from Marguerite on the Toulouse 20 metre line, and offloaded to Johnstone to touch down his fourth of the afternoon and send the Wildcats into the quarter-finals with a 40-22 win.