The 18th Man Column: I've heard Superman wears Tony Clubb pyjamas
Another couple of days of butterflies and numerous trips to the lavatory await as it's Cup Final week, what I regard to be the best prize in rugby league.
Forget the Grand Final, the World Club Challenge and the League Leaders Shield - the Challenge Cup is the trophy to win.
A lovely sunny day at Wembley, Abide With Me, the roar of the crowd... where’s that toilet? I’m more nervous than the players.
Despite our success over the last seven years, many of the current squad haven’t won the Challenge Cup, only a few of the old timers have won the trophy.
With Hull FC winning it last year, and us winning it four years ago, this could be Sean O’Loughlin’s last game at Wembley and maybe last final appearance, just let that sink in for a moment. Mr Final may be playing his last so make sure you absorb every bit of it, and bang your money on him to win the Lance Todd trophy.
Another player who I’ll be watching especially is Tony Clubb, a vastly underrated forward but in my opinion, the best English impact prop going. He has had a really tough year with injury and with a massive personal loss, he had the spine operation and the operation to remove one of his kidneys, ouch. He is one tough bloke, I’ve even heard Superman wears Tony Clubb pyjamas.
Clubb, if selected, will be well up for this game as he hasn’t played in the Challenge Cup final before and it’s near to his home patch, a lot of his family and friends will be there watching, maybe a good outside bet for the Lance Todd alongside Lockers.
Roll on Saturday!
I honestly can’t remember the last time I enjoyed a full 80 minutes as much than I did last week against Salford.
It was a refreshing change to the usual - delight, anger, stress and ultimate disappointment - that we’ve been through all season.
I thought every player was superb throughout and they left it all out on the field, just a week before Wembley.
It was clear to see that the players still believe they can make the play-offs, and all the attention went into that game with Salford, rather than having one eye on this week.
We were playing some Champagne rugby at times, I had to rub my eyes and make sure it was Wigan Warriors.
The only bit of frustration during the game was the soft try we conceded, and I’m sure Wane was fuming.
Apart from that, I thought we were tremendous, in both attack and defence.
What was most pleasing was the number of tries we scored, and the number of tries we could’ve scored, it was a great attacking display.
I don’t think we could’ve asked for a better preparation for this week’s Challenge Cup Final against Hull FC at Wembley, it was perfect.
We won, scored eight tries and most importantly – came away with NO injuries.
Wembley week is the best, it’s so hard to explain if you’ve never experienced it with your own club, there’s no feeling like it. For me, the Grand Final is the pinnacle of our game - but the build-up and buzz around the club for a Challenge Cup Final just cannot be topped, it’s special.
It’s going to be such a good game, and I’m expecting it to go very close, similar to how last year’s went – just with a different winner.
Hull FC would probably be the last side I would want to face in a Cup Final. They’re such a big, strong side, who can also score some lovely tries.
Both sides are fully fit for this weekend’s game, which is great to see.
I’m hoping we play the same team that faced Salford last week, except Davies coming in for Marshall – I would not play Joel Tomkins, he’s been out too long. I’m really looking forward to the whole day - and I’m going rather confident and expecting us to bring that famous trophy back to Wigan for the 20th time.
With Wembley on the horizon, Shaun Wane seems to have given Wigan back their bite in defence. A second successive game conceding only one try leaves me much more positive about the Cup Final than a couple of weeks ago after the Leeds debacle.
To a man, the Wigan team were enthusiastic, hungry, tenacious and all the other superlatives. In particular Tommy Leuluai, George Williams and Micky McIlorum seemed to be having their own private contest as to who could break the most opposition ribs.
Considering they are the smallest men in the team, their tackle technique was perfect and a huge reason why Wigan dominated right from the start.
It has to be said Salford were missing one or two key players, Robert Lui and Murdoch-Masila were huge absences, and Hull will offer a much sterner test.
It’s hard to find fault with the Black and Whites. They have pace and size in the backs, two quality half backs, one with a phenomenal kicking game and the other a live-wire who can create something from nothing. They also have a huge, hard working pack with great stamina. On top of all that they will be looking for revenge for the 2013 Cup Final and to send Gareth Ellis into retirement on a high.
All is not lost though. For all their size and skill they have remained frustratingly inconsistent. Every time they string a few wins together they lose unexpectedly, and were soundly beaten by Huddersfield last Friday despite having a decent side out.
Wigan will also be out for revenge after losing twice to Hull in the regular season. Our confidence should be sky high after the last two performances, fixing up our defence and scoring plenty of tries, especially from grubber kicks. It’s good to see we finally have more options to break down tough defences rather than just giving the ball to Williams and hoping he creates something. Shaun Wane is facing a few selection headaches. Joel Tomkins is fit again but it would be harsh to leave out the hard working Willie Isa, and as long as Tom Davies’ hamstring is ok, he should regain his place from the unfortunate Liam Marshall. Marshall’s try scoring record is exceptional but Davies offers more defensively and carrying the ball out from the back, and certainly doesn’t struggle to find the line either.
Roll on Saturday, here’s hoping the long coach trip back is a happy one. Despite being underdogs I’m going for a Wigan win, 24-16, with Liam Farrell as man-of-the-match. You heard it here first!
I expected a performance and goodness me we were not left disappointed.
No doubt desperate to show the coaching staff that they are ready for Wembley, the boys really stood up and gave Salford what for.
The Reds are doing it tough at the moment after a super season and I really feel for them, especially my good mate Logan Tomkins, who really put a shift in.
But much of the sentiment is lost at this time of year in the quest for silverware against all odds.
The big test in so far as our Grand Final hopes go will be to face a St Helens squad who are fully rested after a week off whilst we face the emotional turmoil of this weekend’s final. Win this week and we will have a huge high followed by the inevitable come down, but lose and confidence might be low enough to affect the rest of the year. It will take some well-calculated recovery techniques and psychological expertise if we are going to push on past the Challenge Cup Final and do ourselves some justice in the run into the semi-finals.
But before all that we have the small matter of travelling to London to pick up our trophy. Hull have been brilliant at times this year and they will not be the pushover we faced last time we met at Wembley.
Much will be made of their massive forwards and the retiring Gareth Ellis, so they will need no encouragement to play their hearts out. But we are fast, we are tough and we have some of the best tactical rugby brains in the competition.
Expect to see wide open plays using the huge field at Wembley to its fullest. If we can keep our focus for 80 minutes, stand deep in attack, scramble like our lives depend on it in defence, we will do it.
I must congratulate our under-19s on their victory at the weekend. Darrell Goulding has these lads firing like pros and they deserve a shot at the title after the efforts they have all put in. And finally, a huge well done to our club.
A young Wigan fan Jess Maiden had been told she had won a competition to go to Wembley, then the charity she had been raising money for, apparently having made an error, crushed the little girl’s dreams who herself is quite unwell.
Step up Wigan RLFC who came to the rescue and offered two Club Wembley tickets and return travel totally out of the blue and free of charge for Jess and her mum Paula.
I hope you both have a wonderful day out and help cheer our boys home for the win.
Whisper it quietly, but things are looking up.
Wigan’s performance combined with the other results in the Super 8s mean that the Warriors not only go to Wembley on the back of their most convincing performance in some time, facing a Hull FC side coming off the back of a disappointing result at home to Huddersfield, but also just one point off the top-four, with their fate now back in their own hands.
Win their remaining four league games and the semis await. Simple on paper, but a whole different ball game on the pitch.
Salford have really been struggling of late and the wheels have been coming off for some time. That shouldn’t take away from how far they have come in the last 12 months and it will be a great learning curve for Ian Watson. The Red Devils though look short on leaders and after Wigan scored their second try, it was a case of by how many Wigan would win by rather than which way the result would go.
Wigan’s much maligned-attack finally seemed to fire, particularly the left edge of Williams, Farrell, Gildart and Burgess. Although I am at a loss as to what Greg Johnson was doing for Burgess’ two tries. It was also great to see that all but four of Wigan’s points came from players developed through the youth system, especially as the under-19s repeated the score line in their semi-final against Catalans on Sunday at Orrell. It really is amazing that the Wigan side will be playing in their ninth final in 10 years and is a testament to not only those that work so hard at the club, but the hundreds of volunteers at schools and amateur clubs around the town that we continue to get such astounding results whilst developing players for the first team (seven of whom signed pro forms this week).
Castleford took the plaudits for finishing League Leaders last week and it split opinion. It brought out the debate around the rewards for finishing top.
Especially with the Tigers choosing to play “We are the Champions”.
I think perhaps this year has gained more media attention because Cas have never finished top before, but there’s no way the RFL and Super League will devalue the Grand Final and everyone outside the WF postcode (and a few inside it) will tell you the champions are crowned at Old Trafford.
Finally, Wembley week is here. It really is a special week for the teams involved.
Hull will not only be looking to retain their crown, but also exact revenge for the 16-0 loss in 2013. The Warriors will be looking to add their second major piece of silverware to the cabinet this season. It really is a tough one to call as they are two very similarly matched teams. Not only will Wigan’s forwards have to get on top but the Warriors will have to stop Sneyd’s kicking game if they are to triumph. Wane seems to have the knack in big games these days, let’s hope this rings true on Saturday.
Victory on Saturday could launch a new golden era for the Warriors!
As the Warriors go in search for their 20th Challenge Cup crown, this could be the most important win of the lot as victory on Saturday could mark beginning of a new golden age for the Cherry and Whites.
With the current crop of players the club has there is no reason why it can’t go on to feature in many more finals and have many more successes.
2017 has been a year of both ups and downs for the team. Whilst the club started on a high by winning the World Club Challenge, a string of unfortunate injuries led to a huge dip in form leaving the club far from they’d expect to be.
But even with the absence of number of big stars on various occasions the team has still been able to reach a cup final as well as keeping their playoffs hopes in touching distance.
For every big name missing, it gave a chance for younger members of the squad to step in and take their chance and that can only be seen as a positive for the future.
Not all the performances have been pretty, in fact some have been unbearable to watch but everyone knows on their day the team is unstoppable.
Hull FC, of course, stand in the club’s way of getting that 20th title. They are looking to retain the cup and make sure it returns to Yorkshire. If Wigan are anything but at their best, Hull will capitalise. Rash tackles and pointless penalties can’t be conceded against Lee Radford’s men.
Winning a trophy will certainly galvanise the team heading into the league run - reaching the play-offs alone would be a good achievement after a torrid year.