Challenge Cup semi-final: Match preview

Lewis Tierney
Lewis Tierney

Lewis Tierney knows what getting to Wembley means for Wigan.

While on the fringes of the first team in 2013, he sat in the stands watching on as his team-mates brought the Challenge Cup home with a gritty 16-0 win over Hull FC.

He was part of the celebrations, he was in snapshots, and he got his hands on rugby league’s most famous trophy.

But it wasn’t quite his to enjoy.

It was certainly an experience to remember, but having just two first team games to his name by the time the final that year came around, this was very much a window into what the future could be like for the rising star.

But tonight, he has a chance to create history, rather than just be a part of it.

With Josh Charnley missing out through suspension, 21-year-old Tierney will line-up against Hull FC as part of Wigan’s ranks in their latest mission for silverware.

“That would be massive,” he said on the prospect of helping Warriors to a third Challenge Cup Final in six seasons.

“I remember in my first year with the first team 
we did the double so I just sat the back and enjoyed it all.

“But to be honest being on the pitch would be amazing, so I’m just looking to get as much game time as possible and if the opportunity comes when I’m needed I’ll be looking forward to it.”

Tierney was born too late to remember when the Wembley pilgrimage was an annual fixture. He wasn’t quite a year old when Wigan won their last of the famous eight-in-a-row.

And by the time he was old enough to enjoy watching the club he would eventually sign for, Wembley was gone, and two finals, 2002 at Murrayfield and 20004 in Cardiff, punctuated his childhood before Wigan finally got back to London in 2011, by which time he was on the books as a scholarship player.

“I used to watch us go to finals as a kid,” he explained.

“So when I signed for this club there was nothing better for me (to see the 2013 final), I can’t describe the feeling.”

But before dreams of pushing his team-mates for a place at Wembley can start, there’s the not-so-small matter of Hull FC in front of Wigan.

After topping the table in the regular season this term, Hull are in the same position as Shaun Wane’s Warriors – fighting for a treble of the Challenge Cup, League Leaders’ Shield, and Super League title.

There are also factors going against Warriors as far as the neutral spectator may be concerned.

Wane still has seven players missing from his squad – Mike McIlorum, Tony Clubb, Liam Farrell, Anthony Gelling, Joel Tomkins, and the suspended duo of Josh Charnley and Frank-Paul Nuuausala

And there is also a question mark over prop Dom Crosby, who suffered an elbow injury against St Helens last Friday. His absence would be felt by a Warriors side having to deal with a big and confrontational Hull FC pack.

But Warriors are used to playing with a patched-up side this term, and grinding out results against the odds is nothing new to them.

Add that spirit, with a backline boasting plenty of zip – including Tierney, who has scored seven tries this season – and the contest starts to look a lot tougher to call.

“I think the result will look after itself if we do what we’ve spoke about all year and play how we want to,” he said.

“(We have to improve) some personal things for a few players as well, but we’re mainly looking at freeing up a few more options in our attack.”

“It’s the tiny little things, that’s what we talked about. We know what we’re going to do this week in training, we’re all positive and we’re looking forward to it.”

On the training pitch and in the gym this week, Wane’s players will have followed a familiar routine.

Claps of encouragement, the clatter of weights being put back in the rack and the calls of plays being practiced on the pitch are everyday sounds at the club’s training base at Orrell. To an onlooker, it might look like the players and staff have been planning for any given game in any given week.

But those who know what tonight’s clash means will sense an undercurrent. A different kind of urgency at HQ of the 19-times Cup winners.

And Tierney is aware of this shift.

He explained: “I can’t say it’s just another game because it’s the Challenge Cup semi-final, but we will go out there and do our job well because we know what’s at stake.”