MARTYN SADLER talks to a player now in the autumn of his career, but who appreciates what could be one last opportunity to win a major trophy.
Castleford prop forward Grant Millington is now in his tenth season with the Tigers, and could be on his way out of the club at the end of the season, with Bradford Bulls appearing to be his likely destination.
Millington, who originally joined the Tigers from the NRL’s Canterbury Bulldogs, where he spent a year after three seasons with Cronulla, has never yet won a Grand Final or Challenge Cup winners’ medal, coming closest in the 2017 Grand Final, when the Tigers lost to Leeds Rhinos.
But one of his greatest disappointments was missing the 2014 Challenge Cup Final, when Castleford went down to St Helens without Millington, who was missing with a knee injury.
So, having just returned to action last weekend after another knee injury, he admits he is relishing the Wembley experience this year.
“It’s pretty bang-on special after the heartbreak of 2014, which I missed with the same injury,” he said.
“Seeing the boys walk out in 2014 was really emotional, but this time around it’s going to be emotional for a different reason.
“I’m thankful that the boys got the job done without me against Warrington in the semi-final. Obviously I’ve been through a fair bit to get to the point where I can get out there and play again. But right now I’m excited and I can’t wait for my family to make their way down there on the day and then I just hope we put in a good performance.”
Millington admits that he had wondered whether Castleford would ever reach Wembley again during his playing career after their 2014 defeat.
“Since then we’ve had tough draws every year, usually coming up against Hull FC or St Helens at some point, but this year we have Saints in the final.
“To get here we had two golden-point games (against Hull KR and Salford) and we then faced Warrington as underdogs in the semi-finals. So I suppose I thought I might never make it again. But now, here we are, we have made it, but now we have to get the job done.”
And Millington accepts it could be a tight game, perhaps even going to golden point, while he admits he will adopt a different approach personally compared to his Grand Final experience in 2017 in the lead-up to the game.
“We’ve had enough practice (at golden point). I genuinely think it will be a tight match, whichever way it rolls. Saints have plenty of experience in these big games and I think you’re going to see a very close game.
“When we played the Grand Final in 2017 I blocked it all out and tried to treat it as just another game. I won’t be doing that again. This time I’m going to soak in the occasion a little more and feel the hype of it, because it’s such a massive occasion.
“I sort of felt numb in that Grand Final and I want to ride off the emotion a little more this year. Obviously I want to get to a point at which I can flick the switch and be ready to go. When I go through that tunnel I want to be able to feel the emotion, but then harness it in the right way. I can’t tell you what will be going through my mind, but hopefully they will all be positive thoughts.”
And a Castleford victory on Saturday would be important for several reasons.
“This is a special group of lads for me. We’ve been through a lot together and it’s now all about wanting to do the right thing for your mates and getting the job done and a lot of the boys will tell you a similar thing. None of us wants to be the person who lets your team-mates down, especially on such a big occasion. That’s what gets me through a game when I’m in a dark place.
“Bringing the trophy home this year would be massive for a number of reasons. People moving on, who won’t be here next year, it would be the perfect culmination of a lot of players’ careers. I’ve been here for a long time now and the club has come a long way. We’ve been there or thereabouts for a long time and the people in the town deserve some success and it would be great to bring the Cup back to Castleford. We have enough to be able to get the job done.”
Meanwhile Millington is confident that he is fully over his recent knee injury, as was shown by his performance for the Tigers against Salford on Sunday.
“I didn’t think about the knee at all, which was a good sign. I’d done a lot of running before the game, and in the match I didn’t feel it at all. I was relieved to get through unscathed and without a head knock.
“The boys have worked really hard since the Huddersfield game was called off. It’s not the ideal way to come into a Cup Final, but I don’t think it will be a major problem for us.
“When I suffered the injury I thought it wasn’t too bad, but I felt a click and that’s not the best injury to have. The tear was in the medial ligament. I had no pain, but despite that I wasn’t right. There was a bit of doubt after the scans came through, but we have good medical staff and trainers here.
“I knew I would pull through and be ready to go.
“I knew I needed to go out there and play well on Sunday. We had a really young side so I had to go out there and get some good contacts in.
“We had a couple of bench spots for a few of the boys to try and play for. That made it an exciting match for me to play in.
“This will be the first major trophy I will have won, if we succeed. It’s a blessing to have the opportunity to get out there and have another crack at it. But we have to bring it home.”
And Millington is happy to contrast his experience seven years ago with how things will be on Saturday.
“It definitely was, chalk and cheese, being at the ground, the boys walking out full of emotion, I was sitting in the stands knowing I couldn’t help, feeling sorry for myself, but this year it will be one of the best days of my life.
“I think we’re a much more well rounded squad than in 2014. Then we surprised a lot of sides, but now we have squad players all over the park who could do a job in any Super League side.”
Millington is expecting hot weather at Wembley, but that will definitely not affect his performance, he believes.
“In a final I don’t know if there’s much pacing yourself, especially for the boys in the middle. There will be a lot of hard work. Most boys will know roughly how many minutes they are going to play and it’s a case of getting through that and doing a good job.
“The weather is a factor, obviously, but you just have to put it at the back of your mind and get the job done.
“There are not many weaknesses in St Helens. They’re a very well-rounded team and they’ve been the best team in the comp for the last three or four seasons. We are under no illusions that we’ll have to be at our best to beat them. Our coaching staff have been very diligent in putting together a game plan for us and we’re pretty confident that if we can put it together we’ll be successful.”