HE will be lining up in the opposition ranks on Saturday evening, but Stefan Ratchford can lay claim to a small piece of Wigan sporting history.
Like many of the Warriors players, Wolves back Ratchford is a graduate of the hugely-successful St Pat’s nursery.
And while he has made his mark in the professional game out of the Parish - first at Salford, now at Warrington - he can still remember the day he was a member of the last team to win a trophy at Wigan’s old Central Park stadium.
“There was a tournament with all the Wigan teams involved, and we went through to the final,” recalled the amiable 25-year-old.
“We played it at half-time during the last game at Central Park - Wigan against Saints - and I think we played Hindley in the final and we won.
“I would have been about 10 or 11, but it’s nice to have a little bit of history.”
Among his team-mates that day was Darrell Goulding, Wigan’s talented centre who Ratchford will be lining up against at Old Trafford.
“He probably scored that day... Daz always did back then,” continued the Wolves ace.
“We had a squad of about 22 players sand I think 15 or 16 of us signed for different clubs. Thomas Coyle, Sean Gleeson, Daz... it was good to see a few go on to do well.
“Darrell has always been a quality player.
“He doesn’t get all the headlines, but I think - if you were to ask Josh Charnley - he would be the first to say a lot of his tries are down to the work Darrell does.
“As an opponent he’s got good footwork, he’s strong, he offloads, he’s the full package. He’s one you have to try and keep an eye on.”
He still has a soft spot for St Pat’s, and says “you’ll always bump into a few lads - the likes of Liam Farrell, Sam or Lockers” at their home games on Saturdays.
Ratchford slipped through Wigan’s scouting net as a teenager, but his promise was later spotted when he burst onto the scene at Salford.
The Warriors attempted to lure him home before he opted to join the Wolves ahead of 2012 - and he has no regrets, even if it has forced his family to put their lifelong support for their hometown club on hold!
“I’ve got them kind of converted to Warrington now,” smiled the Pemberton-resident. “When I went to Salford they defected a bit and it pains them a bit more now I’m at Warrington. I’m not too sure they’d support me if I went to St Helens!
“But everyone still lives in Wigan, we all live close to one another in Pem, I’m proud to be a Wiganer.”
He added: “I almost signed for Wigan before I went to Warrington.
“When I was leaving Salford, I was fortunate to have a few clubs interested and I narrowed it down to Wigan and Warrington.
“I was playing in the halves then and they were doing quite a bit with(Australian legend) Andrew Johns, and that was one of the swaying factors. “
Ratchford could barely toddle, never mind sidestep, when these two north west heavyweights met in a Challenge Cup Final in 1990.
Since then, their paths have avoided each other - save for a Regal Trophy in 1995 - and he reckons Saturday’s showdown will live up to expectations.
“It’s crazy really, Wigan and Warrington have had success and you’d have thought before now they’d have clashed in a final,” he said. “For whatever reason, it hasn’t happened.
“It’s the final all the neutrals wanted and the Wigan and Warrington fans wanted. The games we’ve produced over the years have been nothing short of spectacular - throw in the crowd and occasion and the prize at stake, I think it’ll go up another notch.”
This story appeared in a 16-page Grand Final supplement free in this week’s Wigan Observer, which also includes interviews with Shaun Wane, Pat Richards, Darrell Goulding, Lee Mossop, Ben Flower, Logan Tomkins and Sam Tomkins.
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