Bradford-born John Bateman grew up watching his heroes being crowned world champions, never daring to dream that he would one day get the chance to emulate them.
But on Sunday the England back row forward will line up for Wigan in their eagerly-anticipated Dacia World Club Challenge with NRL champions Cronulla Sharks at the DW Stadium.
The Warriors have the chance to beat the record for most wins in the annual clash of the champions, set by Bradford in 2002, 2004 and 2006 and equalled by Leeds, Melbourne and Wigan themselves, whose last title was in 1994 when Bateman was just 12 months old.
“I watched them a few times,” said Bateman, 23, who made 30 Super League appearances for the Bulls from 2011-13 before moving to Wigan. “I was a bit young for the first but I went to watch them when they played Penrith.
“It will be weird because you never think you’re going to play in one. It’s stuff that dreams are made of.”
Bateman made his Wigan debut in their 36-14 defeat by Sydney Roosters in the 2014 World Club Challenge in Sydney and was also in the side that went down to Brisbane in the expanded World Club Series in both 2015 and 2016.
He was forced to sit out Wigan’s opening game of the Betfred Super League season at Salford on Saturday with back spasms but is confident of being fit to face the Sharks.
“I’ve been training for a while and I’ve been doing weights this week,” he said.
“It was very frustrating at the weekend, you train all pre-season to play the first game and to miss out is rubbish. I’m looking forward to getting back.
“It’s one of the biggest games of the season, to be crowned the best team in the world, that’s what you play for, isn’t it?”
Cronulla ended a 43-year wait for the NRL title when they beat Melbourne in the 2016 NRL Grand Final and, although they have lost several key members of that team including full-back Ben Barba and hooker Michael Ennis, Bateman is expecting them to be tough opponents.
“I watched a bit of NRL last year and we’ve seen a few clips,” he said. “They’ve got some decent players but so have we at the end of the day.
“They have a few players missing from last year but you can’t underestimate them. They will be good.”