It has been quite a 12 months for Josh Charnley.
This time last year, and Charnley was getting his head around the fact he hadn’t even made Wigan’s 19-man squad for the Grand Final defeat to Leeds, a firm underlining of how difficult 2015 was on the whole for the England international.
But now, things are different. 19 tries in 28 appearances this season suggest the winger is very much back to his best – but for the 25-year-old, this weekend’s Grand Final represents the end of an era for a player who has known nothing but Wigan Warriors throughout his career.
Rugby union and a move to Sale Sharks beckons following Saturday’s game – and although the winger is keen not to talk about that cross-code switch just yet, he is happy to admit he’s been delighted with his own season after last year: when his top-flight career looked in real doubt.
“I sat out most of last year due to injury, not being right and coming in and playing a game and just getting a setback which escalated into something worse,” he tells TotalRL.
“I wasn’t at my best and I made it my goal from the start of the year to have a strong season for Wigan, especially when I knew it would be my last one here. I’ve been impressed with what I’ve done, I’ve just got one more game to finish my rugby league career on a high.
“It didn’t feel right 12 months ago, me sat on the sidelines watching the boys. It was a surreal experience. I didn’t want to be in that situation ever again and I worked hard all pre-season to get fitter, in better form and I believe it has paid off.”
Charnley is right: the hard work has paid off for the winger. Now, he has the opportunity to bring his time with the club he holds so close to his heart in fitting fashion – by winning the Grand Final for the second time in his career in his last match as a Wigan player.
“I’ve been here before, doing the pre-match media stuff at Old Trafford, but it definitely feels a bit different this time around knowing that it’s just for one last time before I leave,” he admits.
“It’s been a good year as a club; we’ve come through some ups and downs so to be here is brilliant.
“I’ve tried not to think about what it will be like, pulling that famous shirt on – the one I dreamt of wearing as a kid – for the final time.
“Being here and losing, there’s nothing worse. But then if you do win here – I’ve been lucky enough to experience that once – there’s nothing like it, to be called the best in the league and Super League champions. It’s the best feeling you can have and with it being my last game for Wigan, finishing this way, winning some silverware, is what I set out to do from the very start.”
And if it is Wigan celebrating come 8pm on Saturday night, Charnley is insistent that this trophy – he has already won the Grand Final once, as well as two Challenge Cups – would be the very best given the emotional circumstances surrounding it.
“To finish on winning ways at home was very special, and it obviously gets us to this point,” he says.
“To go one better and finish with a Grand Final ring in my hand come Saturday night, it would be the best thing I’ve achieved. I’ve won here before and won the Challenge Cup twice, but I already know that this would top the lot.
And the future?
“I’ve lived and breathed Wigan, grew up in and around this club, so it’s been a tough ask for us all to say goodbye to the DW Stadium, but you never know what the future holds.
“I dreamt of playing for Wigan growing up and to be able to fulfil that dream has just been incredible. It really has been an honour to represent the club.”