Jai Field takes trip into history books as Wigan Warriors eye Challenge Cup milestone

History is to be found everywhere at Wigan Warriors, and lessons from the past continue to be put to good use as the current side aim to create another chapter in the club’s storied tale this week.

Wigan are celebrating their 150th anniversary year this season, and they are looking to reach another milestone number in the competition that they are perhaps most synonymous with.

If they can overcome Huddersfield Giants in Saturday’s Challenge Cup final, it will be a record-extending 20th time they have lifted the trophy.

The roll of honours and list of heroes are well known to any Wiganer, and the club has been especially keen this season under head coach Matt Peet to emphasise the culture and history to the latest occupants of the cherry and white jerseys.

Their star player of this season has undoubtedly been Jai Field, the Aussie in his second year at the club after a debut campaign ruined by injury.

Speaking to League Express ahead of the final, the fullback said that the club has made great efforts to make the squad fully aware of the achievements of those who came before and who they are attempting to emulate.

“I knew coming here how much of a successful club they were,” said Field.

“Once you get here and you’re in a system like this, you see different things up on the walls. 

“People come in and talk about their experiences. You get made more aware of it once you’re here. 

“Through pre-season we had Henderson Gill come in and speak, we’ve had Martin Offiah come in and speak, Andy Gregory too. 

“They came in and talked about their experiences. They were in that golden era (in the 1980s and 1990s). 

“It was really good for the team having those guys come in for a chat in pre-season. It gave us more of an insight into how much it meant to them and what they did to win.”

Super League might not command much attention in Field’s native Australia with the comparative might of the NRL, but the Challenge Cup remains a unique competition that can capture the imagination.

“When you start getting older you hear a lot more about it and how big it is, and then when you get here and come to a Super League club, you realise just how big,” said Field.

“There’s no knockout competition in Australia at all, so this is the biggest one in the world in Rugby League. 

“I don’t think many Australians will have won it, only a handful. So to be able to win the Cup, especially with how much it means to the Wigan town, would be great. I’m looking forward to the day.”

Field describes the display that saw them overcome great rivals St Helens in a classic semi-final as “our best team performance” so far this season.

But he knows another big effort will be needed to complete the job and beat Huddersfield at Tottenham.

“Huddersfield are a grinding team with a lot of attacking threats; they’ve got a great spine and good fullback who will give us a tough game,” he said.

At Tottenham on Saturday, Wigan will be missing two key members of their spine in the injured Tommy Leuluai and the suspended Sam Powell.

The Warriors have a ready-made replacement for Leuluai for Leuluai at halfback in Harry Smith, who has been impressing everyone this season, while teenager Brad O’Neill looks certain to be selected at hooker to replace Powell, as he did against St Helens in the semi-final.

O’Neill, who has recently become a father to a little girl Arabella with his partner Alice, admits that he has had plenty of help from Powell.

“Sam has been fantastic with me both on the field and off it,” says O’Neill.

“He has been a credit to the club, acting as a type of player-coach. He wants everyone to get better and isn’t sulking about the fact that he won’t be playing.”

O’Neill, who spent much of last season on loan at Widnes Vikings, comes from a Rugby League family, who will no doubt feel a deep sense of pride if and when he takes to the field on Saturday.

“Widnes is a great club and they developed me a lot,” says O’Neill.

“And I have a Rugby League heritage. My grandad Terry O’Neill, who passed away a few years ago, did a stint with Leigh and my dad, also called Terry, played for Rochdale Hornets.

“It would be a very special moment for me to play in a Challenge Cup Final.”

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