TotalRL writer Aaron Bower sits down with Warrington utility Stefan Ratchford, as he seeks to make more special memories in a competition that he holds very close to his heart..
Most rugby league players would walk over broken glass for the opportunity to play at Wembley, let alone win there – but Stefan Ratchford is not your average rugby league player.
Ratchford has been lucky enough to enjoy success at the world’s most famous stadium, winning the Challenge Cup with Warrington in 2012, when they beat Leeds 35-18 in the capital.
And whilst he admits that is undoubtedly his greatest moment during his career in the sport, he is desperate for a repeat in 2016 – with the Wolves moving a step closer to realising Ratchford’s dream if they can beat Widnes on Friday night and make the semi-finals.
“I’ve been lucky enough to win it and it’s something that will live with me forever,” he told TotalRL.
“I don’t want to just win it once though – I want that feeling again. It’s a competition I want to do well in but the Aussie boys who come over, they get the bug too because it’s something they don’t get back in Australia. To be able to get your hands on it is something you dream of as a kid.
“It’s the highlight of my career, that day at Wembley. You’re following in the footsteps of your heroes by getting to play at Wembley, let alone winning the whole thing. There was 15 minutes left in that game in 2012 and we were so far in front I knew we wouldn’t lose it.
“You could enjoy it a bit more then rather than being on pins, so that last 15 minutes followed by the journey up the steps is something that will live with me forever. I’ve never had a better feeling in rugby league. It’s something I’m striving to do again.”
Ratchford also concedes that the Wolves are motivated by their recent near-misses – notably their two semi-final defeats to Leeds and Hull KR in the last two years.
He said: “I think the last two years worth of heartache has fuelled us. We’ve lost two semi-finals in a row and from a team perspective it’s heartbreaking.
“We scored after a minute against Hull KR and it was the worst thing that could have happened; it gave us a false mindset in all honesty. Falling in the last hurdle before Wembley is a real wrench for us so it does give us a kick.”
And having grown up in Wigan and experienced the euphoria of the cup first hand, Ratchford admits the competition holds a special place in his heart.
He said: “You can’t explain the buzz you get when you play in a Challenge Cup game.
“First of all, there’s the feeling of getting to Wembley; I was lucky enough to get down there before and when you’re doing the team run in an empty stadium you’re in awe of the place – and then the day after when it’s full is incredible.
“Your first memories of watching rugby league as a kid are always with the Challenge Cup. You’d sit in front of the television, watch the games on BBC and there was nothing like it. Being a Wigan lad it was hard not to fall in love with the cup and the hype around it.”
And three more wins in this year’s competition may well see Ratchford fall in love with the cup just a little bit more – if that is at all possible.
There’s more from Ratchford in the upcoming edition of League Express, too – where the Wolves star talks candidly and exclusively about being amongst the group who met with Wayne Bennett earlier this week, and how he hopes his versatility may well play into his hands.