John Bateman could be forgiven for thinking he’s a bit of a jinx.
After all, this is his fourth season with Wigan and he’s still waiting to see the Warriors reach a Wembley final, let alone actually play there himself for the first time.
Wigan’s last cup final was in 2013 – the year before Bateman made the move across the M62 from Bradford to establish himself as one of the game’s best back-rowers. That is a run the forward, and Wigan as a whole, are keen to put right on Sunday against Salford.
He told TotalRL: “I may not be from Wigan but I understand how important the cup is to this town. The last three years since I’ve been here we’ve not got to Wembley and I’m beginning to worry if I’m a bit of a jinx! But you feel it walking around the town and the buzz during a big cup week like this one.”
At the age of just 23, incredibly, the Challenge Cup is the one piece of major silverware Bateman is missing from his trophy cabinet. He has the league title, he has the World Club Challenge: now he wants to complete the set.
He said: “I’ve never even been to Wembley once, for a gig or anything! Hopefully this year is the year that changes.
“It’s one of those things you grow up as a kid dreaming of doing, playing in a Challenge Cup final. It’s a really big one, it’s the one I’m missing and there’s only one way to sort that out.
“It’s got the feel of a big game. You wake up in the morning knowing the prize at the end of the week and it gets you motivated: there’s a very good feeling within the group and we’re all pumped.”
Bateman, like Wigan, appears to be slowly reaching peak form at just the right time. Shoulder surgery saw him miss three months of the season before recently returning to full fitness – and he admits he’s excited about the prospect of the run-in.
He said: “It’s made it even harder seeing the boys struggle – there’s nothing worse than being injured but to see your team struggling is awful too. We’re starting to get there now though, slowly but surely. We spoke about the importance of the win on Friday – we can’t put our kids out just because they put theirs out – and it was a good performance from us. We’re coming into good form.
“I’ve got loads of memories of the cup as a fan – most of them involve watching Bradford but the cup itself just excites me. It’s one of those tournaments where, being in the middle of the year, you’ve got games to come afterwards and it’s a big challenge to back up after it and keep going to push on for the title.”