Joe Bretherton was stunned to get the nod to help Wigan finish second – and even more shocked to get over for his maiden Super League try.
The 20-year-old prop was only called up just 20 minutes before kick-off on Friday night after captain Sean O’Loughlin, due to return from a hamstring problem, pulled up in warm-up.
And he came off the bench to score his first try in a whirlwind opening half – and avoid the ‘naked run’ for players who finish the year without scoring!
“The relief of going over for the try was the best feeling ever, better than my debut,” said Bretherton, after the 48-24 win.
“It also gets me out of the nude run, which is a relief.
“My gran, my dad and my sister were all here, but my mum – who hasn’t missed a game all year – she’s on holiday, so she missed my first try for the club.”
Bretherton has often trained as the 18th man and not got on the pitch.
He said: “I’ve done it for near enough every game I’ve not played in.
“You have to prepare as if you are, and it can be hard - especially during the day, going to sleep when you know you’ll probably not play.
“I didn’t expect to get the call for this because Lockers was due to be back, but five minutes into warm-up I got a message to say I was playing.”
The prop has now figured 12 times this season and with O’Loughlin a doubt for Friday’s semi-final against Hull FC, could be in the frame to hold onto his place.
“If someone had offered me 12 appearances at the start of the year I’d have snatched their hand off, it’s a massive achievement for me,” he added. “There are plenty of bodies in the middle, and good bodies, too. I’m trying to learn from them and just try and progress.
“I’ve played in a semi-final already (against Hull in the Challenge Cup) and some players may never do that in their career.”
Shaun Wane is also likely to be without star full-back Sam Tomkins with a foot injury which ruled him out last week.
Wigan haven’t said how long he will be absent for but, given there is less than two weeks to the Grand Final, his injury is an obvious worry.
England coach Wayne Bennett will surely be monitoring developments from afar ahead of the Four Nations this autumn.
The Super League Dream Team is revealed in Manchester today.