Semi-final preview: Gelling hopes to put Cup misery behind him
There's a different atmosphere on Challenge Cup semi-final week.
The pre-match buzz starts a few days early and the matchday butterflies kick in before breakfast.
It’s a feeling most Warriors fans are used to.
Ticket stubs from five semi-finals since 2009 have been consigned to shoeboxes in wardrobes across Wigan and in total the club have now reached 47. A record shared with Leeds.
Across the M61 the mood will be the same this morning but a lot less familiar.
Salford haven’t been to a semi-final since a 22-18 loss to Sheffield in 1998 and they’ve not been to Wembley since 1969.
In contrast Wigan have been to 15 finals since, 13 at Wembley, and won 12 of them.
But that doesn’t dilute thirst in the Wigan camp for another visit - with some members of the squad having never played under the arch of the national stadium.
Despite being at the club during a period which has so far brought one Cup success, Anthony Gelling is one of them.
On the fringes of the squad in 2013, he lost out on a place at Wembley to Iain Thornley and has only played in three Cup games since, the 2014 quarter-final loss to Castleford, a routine early-round win over Dewsbury in 2016 and last month’s win over Warrington.
In his own words, it’s time for Gelling to fix his distant relationship with the sport’s oldest competition.
“I’ve not played much Challenge Cup over the years. I’ve had some bad injuries and some bad times,” he said.
“I missed Hull last year and the year before that we got knocked out in the quarters.
“But we have to focus on the semi first.
“They’ll be up for it - Cup semi. It’ll mean heaps for them.”
But today’s outcome will also mean a lot to Gelling, as he wants the chance to play at Wembley and complete his medal collection after winning last year’s Grand Final and the World Club Challenge in February.
“It’s been a while for us too - we’ve not been since 2013,” he mused on the 16-0 win over Hull FC.
“Since winning that World Club Challenge at the start of the year - this is the only thing I’ve not won. I want to get it under my belt and then everything is complete - on display on the mantlepiece.
“I travelled with the team for that one against Hull and it was bittersweet last time.
“It was awesome to win it - one of the best weekends ever - but to not play was a bit sour.
“I think there were medals there but I didn’t want to take one because I didn’t play. I want to earn it.”
Gelling’s growing medal collection is proudly on display in the office of his home, where he works on his media and TV university studies.
With graduation a month away, the 26-year-old has had to juggle his studies with playing his part in Warriors’ campaign, but he said during Cup week there can be no other distractions.
“Everything’s on hold,” he smiled.
“I want that collection to be finished, proudly on display in my office.
“It’s the way the house is set-up - I’m doing my uni stuff and there’s a spare bed in there - I use that more than anything.”
But Salford’s hunger to come out on top tomorrow will be as potent, if for different reasons.
The club hasn’t won a final since a 7-4 victory over Halifax in 1938, a long time between drinks in anyone’s book, and coach Ian Watson has named his latest weapon, NRL-signing Manu Vatuvei, in his squad.
The winger will make his debut for the Red Devils surrounded in hype, but Gelling says Warriors have the composure to weather the storm.
“They’ll be looking to play quite simple, energy and effort to get over the line,” he said.
“But in big games this year we’ve been alright. World Club, Easter, Magic Weekend. We show up for them. A lot of boys here have done it before.”
Warriors have received boosts of their own though ahead of the semi-final.
Joel Tomkins (groin) and Liam Farrell (knee) come back into the squad after recovering from their injuries, taking the places of fringe players Callum Field and Jack Wells.
It will be the first time the sides have met in the Cup since Wigan beat Salford 28-6 in the 2009 quarter-final.
But the sides have one win each over each other this term.
Wigan beat the Red Devils 26-16 in February before Salford won the return fixture in May 31-16.
Wigan: John Bateman, Joe Burgess, Tony Clubb, Tom Davies, Liam Farrell, Anthony Gelling, Oliver Gildart, Willie Isa, Thomas Leuluai, Liam Marshall, Michael Mcilorum, Frank-Paul Nuuausala, Sean O’Loughlin, Sam Powell, Ryan Sutton, Taulima Tautai, Joel Tomkins, Sam Tomkins, George Williams.
Salford: Niall Evalds, Jake Bibby, Junior Sau, Kris Welham, Greg Johnson, Todd Carney, Michael Dobson, Logan Tomkins, George Griffin, Ben Murdoch-Masila, Ryan Lannon, Robert Lui, Olsi Krasniqi, Lama Tasi, Josh Jones, Weller Hauraki, Craig Kopczak, Tyrone McCarthy, Manu Vatuvei.