Clubb prepares for emotional homecoming at Wembley after horrendous year

Four months ago, it’s probably fair to assume Tony Clubb wasn’t really giving too much thought to walking out at Wembley this weekend.

The prop recalls to TotalRL: “We played Castleford at home and I got rushed to hospital that night. During the game, I was getting pains in my back and I knew what they were, but it was unbearable. When the physio came on, I said I had to come off – and quickly, before you know it, I was in hospital getting a scan.”

Clubb knew what the pains were because, since the beginning of the year, he had been managing them owing to a kink in the tube leading to one of his kidneys.

But this was worse. This wasn’t right. And Clubb knew it.

When they took me in for a scan the conversation was pretty blunt,” he says.

“‘Mr Clubb,’ they said, ‘you’ve got a dead kidney inside of you and it needs to come out.’ I’m not a doctor, I don’t have a bloody clue what’s happening and I asked what was happening next and I had to wait for a specialist to tell me. I was waiting two or three days for that and I had to have a serious chat with my wife about what happens if my career is over.”

Suddenly, Clubb wasn’t worrying about a video review on Monday morning or a gruelling training session on Tuesday afternoon. This was serious: this was more than just a few weeks out – or so he thought at the time.

Clubb admits he wasn’t sure whether he would play ever again – but thankfully, those fears were quickly dispelled and, on Saturday afternoon, backed by plenty of his family, Clubb will fulfil a lifelong ambition and play in the Challenge Cup final at Wembley.

For Londoners, occasions don’t come much bigger in rugby league.

He admits: “Thankfully, I walked in with the club physio and he told me to stop worrying, I’d be back within eight weeks.

“It was a huge relief and everyone at the club were delighted for me. I had a complete month of rest; got back down south to spend some time with my family which helped me forget about rugby. Then I was straight back into full training, and everything was fine: and here we are, getting ready for Wembley. I guess it’s a pretty good story given how torrid a year it’s been.”

And if anyone walking down Wembley Way hears a band of southern accents, they would be wise to assume it is the Clubb clan.

“We’ve got a lot coming. 20-odd, I think!” he laughs.

“I don’t know the exact numbers – but all the Clubb clan are coming out in force. A lot of them have never seen me play a game so it’s a big occasion for me and my family. In fact, some of them have never even watched a game of rugby league before.

“Being from London, it’s the first thing you remember about rugby league, the cup final at Wembley. I remember watching Martin Offiah score that incredible try in the [1994] final, I remember Wigan dominating it and it’s such an iconic thing to win. This isn’t the league, this is proper knockout rugby and having won everything else, this is special for me.

“I guess it’s pressure for me too though with all the family there – I don’t want them thinking I’m rubbish!”