Tetley's Challenge Cup: Castleford Tigers ready to seize their chance at Wembley
Last Updated: 19/08/14 3:13pm
Castleford Tigers: Saw off Widnes Vikings to reach the final at Wembley
Since the semi-final win over Widnes I have experienced the best two weeks I think I've ever had in rugby league.
Once Daryl Powell made the decision not to play me in the match against Warrington, it really sunk in that the next time I would be walking out onto a field to play it would be at Wembley.
"Driving to recovery the next morning and there was a queue that must have been 40-odd metres long of fans waiting to get their tickets. That puts a smile on your face, it is a big deal to them and that can’t help but give you a sense of pride in what you achieved."
I felt a huge expectation and a lot of pressure going into that Widnes game – there were four teams left standing, we were 80 minutes away from a final and yet you knew that it could all go wrong. People describe losing at that stage as the biggest disappointment you will have.
Yet as soon as we played that game and won, I felt that pressure disperse away. It has been replaced by a feeling of excitement, of anticipation. It now feels like a real opportunity, one I’m ready for.
We were so in control of the game against the Vikings with about 10 or 15 minutes to go that we couldn’t lose it. I was expecting complete euphoria when the siren rang, but to start with it just seemed to wash away quickly, as if it was just another win.
But as soon as I got close to the other boys that all changed. There was a special feeling amongst the group; it slowly began to sink in what we had achieved. The atmosphere in the stadium was also electric. I can’t speak highly enough of the day, how the pitch was and how the fans were (up until the full-time hooter sounded).
Of course, it was in stark contrast to 12 months ago. Then, when with the London Broncos, I was on the wrong end of a semi-final result against Wigan. We always knew at the Broncos ahead of that game that it was going to be a monumental task to beat them that day.
It didn’t take away from how good it felt for me to be in that sort of environment leading up that game. I went into it fully knowing the size of the task at hand, but fully expecting us to be able to pull off something amazing. Obviously we didn’t. We didn’t get anywhere near it.
So to get another chance a year later was an incredible feeling. I thought that my chance had gone, in truth. I knew that at Cas we would have a more competitive side, but a semi-final is such a big occasion and a lot has to break your way to make it.
The Challenge Cup is obviously something special. It holds a prestige that spreads to the other side of the world. While I didn’t watch it religiously when I was a youngster, I knew all about the competition. It just always seemed like Wigan were holding up the trophy at Wembley.
I wouldn’t say that I had a huge affinity to it, but having been in England so long the majestic nature of the cup, and everything it encapsulates, has really developed in me.
It was also afterwards that you got an idea of what it meant to others. The number of messages I got on social media, about how good the Tigers getting to the final had made them feel, was very humbling.
Driving to recovery the next morning and there was a queue that must have been 40-odd metres long of fans waiting to get their tickets. That puts a smile on your face, it is a big deal to them and that can’t help but give you a sense of pride in what you achieved.
It’s been a long while since Castleford have had a great deal to be excited about. The supporters are thankful for it, and we are just happy to be the ones that delivered it for them.
But it’s not just about a day out now. Just because we made it to Wembley doesn’t mean that it’s a case of mission accomplished.
We are very optimistic, very confident in our style of play and our team. We will go there with a real positive attitude of how we will go. There is no harm in being the underdog, either. Every time we have played one of the top sides we have been in that situation, including the cup tie away at Wigan, and it is never something we have spoken about as a unit. We don’t have to go out there and prove people wrong – it is about finding weaknesses and going out there and exploiting them.
The media day on Monday at Tetley Brewery – with around 50 reporters there and several rows of cameras – really brings it home what the whole occasion is about. It was a pivotal moment for me – it gives you a bit of an extra buzz.
The short gap between the semi-final and the final has not made it easy for my family members to organise coming over, but for me it was great. I didn’t play at the Wolves and so I knew the next step was Wembley, there was no waiting. There was no concern about picking up an injury.
Come Saturday I should be bouncing.