The 18th man column: “I’ll be a ‘Dragon for the day’”

Sam Tomkins evades former team-mate Lewis Tierney
Sam Tomkins evades former team-mate Lewis Tierney
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Our 18th man columnists discuss whether the Challenge Cup Final should be moved from Wembley and who they want to win Saturday’s decider...

Will you be a ‘Dragon for the day’? And who do you think will win?

Jon Lyon: I most definitely will be a “Dragon for the Day”, for many reasons. First and foremost I’ll be cheering on Micky Mac, and Lewis Tierney. I’m still gutted Micky left, and apart from when he plays against us I always want to see him do well. He deserves to walk up those Wembley steps a winner after the season he’s had.

As good as it would be for French rugby to have a Cup winning team, I also can’t bring myself to support the Wire regardless. It’s happened the odd time where Wigan have needed them to beat someone, needless to say they usually let me down, but it just goes against the very fibre of being a Wigan fan. I’m blaming Westwood’s punch on Blake Green for this dislike of all things primrose and blue.

My head says Warrington but my heart is definitely saying Catalans. If they play like they did against St Helens no-one could live with them.

Sean Lawless: I will be a ‘Dragon for the day’, maybe even the week! Catalans have finally found a style and a game plan under Steve McNamara which suits them, we saw it at the DW with a much-changed side and then again in the semi-final. Their forwards look to dominate to give Josh Drinkwater a platform to perform. If Catalans’ forwards play to their full potential, then Warrington will struggle.

I tipped the Dragons to beat St Helens and I am tipping them again; I will even go as far as to tell you that Tony Gigot will win the Lance Todd Trophy.

Robert Kenyon: No, I’ll be cheering on Warrington as one of my good mates plays for them. I’ll be at Wembley myself on the pitch holding a big flag with the team that I coach so look out for me.

I reckon Catalans will bottle it, in the same way Hull KR did a few years ago. Warrington are used to the big games and the big occasions, they’re a great team and they have a lot of composure and resilience, so if things don’t go their way they’ll keep going and turn things around, I like that about Warrington. If Catalans don’t get off to a good start I can see their heads going.

Ben Reid: I’d love to see Catalan Dragons win this Saturday. I think it would be a great moment for not only the French outfit but also rugby league as a whole. I’m not Warrington’s biggest fan, but I’d have shouted Catalans on against any side (that wasn’t Wigan) in this Final – I can’t see many non-Warrington fans not following suit.

They’ve had a great run – and played an absolute blinder in the last round against St Helens, and fully deserve their spot. They’ve done brilliantly well selling tickets, with around 2,500 travelling over from the last time I saw. Hopefully, they turn up in what will be the biggest game of their lives, and give their travelling fans something to cheer about.

Darren Wrudd: I remember when we played Catalans at Warrington and the Wire fans were all waving Catalans flags and many had shirts on to the same effect (even Wolfie), the club even stated that it would become French for the day and tried to give the Frenchmen a welcome that they would not forget.

I thought that was dreadful and almost unforgivable to be so biased when the whole point of a semi-final is to be at a neutral ground. Well I hope it bites them in the backside and the cup goes to France for the first time in its history. Vive la France, Vive la Resistance.

Would you be comfortable with the Challenge Cup Final being moved from Wembley?

Jon Lyon: The organisation of this year’s final has faced some difficult challenges. Euston station being closed shows how little the Challenge Cup is valued down south; can you imagine that happening on FA Cup Final day? Groupon ticket offers and the minimal number of Catalans fans who are likely to attend show again we are unlikely to sell out the stadium, something a Cup Final hasn’t come close to since 2005 when it was just a few hundred short at the Millennium Stadium.

For all that though, the Challenge Cup is synonymous with Wembley. I’ve grown up attending Wembley every year, and for all I enjoyed Murrayfield in 2002 and hated the Millennium Stadium in 2004 (possibly result led), Wembley will always be the proper home of the cup. I feel it would be devalued if it is moved.

Sean Lawless: The final has to stay at Wembley. Yes, it has lost its glitz and glamour due to struggling crowds, but we have to hope that the RFL get that right sooner rather than later. I would much rather see the dates of the Challenge Cup move rather than the venue. The date is just simply wrong, we are fishing in a very crowded pond in August. Change the dates and I am sure we will see attendances increase.

Robert Kenyon: It’s a funny one, because nowadays there are football grounds that are of a similar size to Wembley and a lot closer. Having been to Wembley, Murrayfield and The Millennium Stadium to watch Wigan I enjoyed them all. But Wembley is the home of the Challenge Cup and moving it away from there would be relegating it as a competition from the top shelf of finals in the UK and making it second rate. It’s the easy option with regards having a full house.

I don’t think the date of the Final helps, neither does Magic Weekend. If Magic Weekend and Challenge Cup Final swaps dates then there will be an increase in attendance at the final. Instead of last minute trying to fill the stadium with chancers from Groupon, give each community club 100 tickets for them to sell and put on subsidised coaches for those going. If you had a £50 ticket in the lower bowl and gave free coach travel with it, you’d get more fans going.

In my opinion the Challenge Cup is the trophy to win, Wembley is the home of the Challenge Cup. I don’t want us moving to a smaller venue because it makes us look amateur and cheap as a sport. Look how that has worked for the England team, we used to play games at big venues in the 90s like Old Trafford and Wembley, then we moved to The DW, Huddersfield and Elland Rd, not long after that we were playing in front of 6,000 at Leigh. Instead of taking the easy option which will be the wrong option, the RFL needs to pull its finger out and get someone with brains making the decisions.

I don’t think we would be having this conversation if Wigan, St Helens, Leeds, Castleford or one of the Hull teams had got to Wembley against Warrington. I reckon plenty of fans would have gone, neutrals included. With it being Catalans they’ll bring a handful of fans and it’ll cheapen the occasion. If the RFL are serious about expansion they need to help Catalans with subsidising travel costs of the French fans. Instead of trying to fill the stadium with cheapskates buying tickets from groupon who have no interest in the game, they should subsidise coaches or flights from Perpignan to London.

What happens next year when Toronto play Catalans in the Challenge Cup Final at Wembley in front of 4,000 London school kids, 2,000 cheapskates from Groupon and 34 stewards? The RFL needs to make contingency plans.

Ben Reid: To be honest, I want it to move. I don’t really like the ‘new’ Wembley, I’ve been three times, and each occasion has never felt like this almighty stadium. For me, I look forward to going to Old Trafford more than Wembley – it’s a much better feeling, atmosphere, and all-round trip. There’s just more of a final feeling when it’s the Grand Final rather than Challenge Cup, which is a shame.

I unfortunately never attended the ‘old’ Wembley, but from what I’ve heard from those who have, it just doesn’t compare, and simply “not the same”.

I’d have to say that Wembley seems more of a football stadium, rather than this historic building that can host all sporting events.

Darren Wrudd: The Challenge Cup Final should remain at Wembley for me.

It’s historic links to the national stadium form part and parcel of what its all about. No doubt the suits at the RFL would consider sending it around the country to the hotbeds of Rugby League like Aberystwyth, Bognor or even Sunderland and waste more money on promotions to non-League spectators who just don’t care. Of course, we always will have a following to the finals but is this building to a time when a final is played out between Toronto and Catalans, now where would that be held? It is a domestic comp and should remain with its roots, Wembley.

Liam Marshall’s injury was the big negative from Wigan’s game at Catalans – what do you think were the main positives?

Jon Lyon: Liam’s dreadful injury aside, it was an accomplished performance from Wigan. Catalans were no doubt distracted by the Cup final, but they brought back several players rested from the previous week and gave it their all. I’m sure when we were 18-0 up at half time there were more than a few fans thinking back to how we recently almost threw away similar leads against Catalans and Castleford.

Our defence was resilient, though, and to only concede one try, and that from a kick, away from home, shows a lot of grit. Sam Tomkins was exceptional again and looks at the top of his game just when it matters.

It was also Joe Greenwoods best game yet in attack, and Escare showed up well off the bench. It would be nice if we could get a centre or two backs fit for the Saints game, even if we can’t catch them in the league it would be very sweet to beat them at their place.

Sean Lawless: The main positive was perhaps a long-term negative for Wigan, that being the way Sam Tomkins controlled a game and knowing that he won’t be at the club in 2019.

It’s a huge shame for Liam Marshall, I have perhaps been one of his biggest critics for the way he sometimes defends, an area which he has improved upon greatly this season. What it does represent though, is an opportunity for Dom Manfredi – let’s hope he is physically and mentally up to the test; if he isn’t, then there is a flying Frenchman who showed on Saturday that he could quite easily do a job for Wigan on the wing.

Robert Kenyon: Sam Tomkins showed us his class, I would have liked for him to have stopped but playing the scrum half role. George Williams running game was superb and we seemed to want it. Joe Greenwood got a great line for his second try. Willie Isa as usual put a shift in and is a modern day Sam Panapa with his versatility and work rate. Albeit Catalans has their eye on the final, there’s no doubt about that, we were professional in our approach and dispatched them accordingly helping us in the league position for the Super 8s.

Ben Reid: I thought we were bloody brilliant. A real solid, professional job.

Don’t get me wrong, Catalans definitely had an eye on this Saturday’s game with Warrington - and who can blame them. But they had a strong side out, and we controlled them from start to finish. I rather enjoyed watching us in attack, and when asked, we also defended strong.

I was more than intrigued before game when I saw the Powell/Leuluai switch.

But I thought it actually improved our attack - worked a treat. Also, I thought Partington was sensational. He looks like he’ll fit right into the side in place of the departing Sutton. Was a much-needed win, and more importantly, an impressive performance.

Darren Wrudd: For once there were so many positives in the game against Catalans.

Both teams played it in the spirit of the game and after bashing each other to bits, formed a scrum with a few smiles and jibes.

That could be the French looking forward to this week, but I think it generally was a tough game played well.

Our players stuck to their chosen jobs and fulfilled them well and it was I think one of the best run outs of the year.

Tom Davies was on fire and I hope he remains in such form as he will be difficult to replace. Tony Clubb, though, was simply fantastic.

A better prop in Super League, I think, you will struggle to find.

Also, there is obviously an extension of the team bet that states, last in to congratulate a player on scoring pays a tenner and the smiles and fun on their faces showed a relaxed set of lads, happy with where they are at.

Win, lose or draw, I will pay to watch that kind of team spirit any day. Besides, could we actually be peaking at the right time of year? Oh my.