The Wakefield Trinity veterans with their own reasons to savour Wembley glory

Wakefield Trinity are a club on the rise, and victory at Wembley in the 1895 Cup has given the whole city something to celebrate.

FAMILY reunions, landmark appearances, individual accolades and dreams come true – there are a plethora of reasons why Wakefield Trinity’s 1895 Cup final success at Wembley was a special day for everyone involved.

Daryl Powell’s side, having fallen behind to a try from Sheffield Eagles captain Anthony Thackeray, responded with 50 unanswered points to become the competition’s fifth winners, their opposition on the day, Mark Aston’s side from South Yorkshire, having defeated Widnes when the tournament began in 2019.

Trinity captain Matty Ashurst, one of the Wigan fans in attendance when the Eagles stunned the Warriors to win the Challenge Cup final in 1998, has far happier memories from his latest visit to Wembley, which was also his 350th appearance.

“It’s brilliant to be involved in a winning team at Wembley,” the 34-year-old told Rugby League World. “I’ve never played at Wembley before so to captain a team and win like we did is awesome.

“Captaining a team at Wembley is one of the things people dream of and to win like that in my 350th appearance, it couldn’t have gone any better really. We’ve worked hard this season and Sheffield made it tough for us in that first half but to come out the other side shows our character as a team. 

“I’m glad we could do it for the group. The group has been class all year and we’ve worked really hard, so to tick our first goal off with winning this trophy was awesome. The turnout from the fans was unreal as well. They’ve really got on board, so for the people of Wakefield it’s brilliant for all involved.”

In addition to everything else, Ashurst’s sister flew in from Dubai to make the weekend that little bit more special.

“She came to present me with my jersey the night before so that was a nice touch by the club. I saw her again just after the game. We made the trip worthwhile in the end, it would have been a bit of a disappointment if we hadn’t managed to get the job done. It was a great day for me and my family.”

Having levelled proceedings through Lachlan Walmsley’s intercept try, Luke Gale’s effort, coupled with Max Jowitt’s second of what ended up being seven conversions, put Trinity in front for the first time on the day.

That contributed to the stand-off being giving the Ray French Award for the player of the match, having missed out on the Lance Todd Trophy when he captained Leeds and slotted the winning drop goal when the Rhinos beat Salford Red Devils 17-16 in the 2020 Challenge Cup Final.

But in a game where Wakefield crossed nine times through six different players and their pack dominated, the former Castleford Tigers man was keen to highlight the role of his teammates.

“To be honest, I thought it was a good team performance. I didn’t think I was outstanding. I think it could’ve gone to any a number [of people]. Shenny [Wakefield assistant coach Michael Shenton] said it was because I had orange boots so they noticed me more! 

“Caleb [Uele] was great, Jerry [Jermaine McGillvary] was great, everyone to a man was great. I thought when Doyley [Thomas Doyle] came on he changed the game. He scored that try and I thought he was great.

“Half-backs or key positions get the rewards. I was a bit cheesed off that Richie Myler won it [the Lance Todd Trophy in 2020] actually! I thought if you kick the winning drop goal then you get the Lance Todd. He got that one, but I got this one. 

“Whenever you come to Wembley and get a victory, it’s fantastic. The last time I came, there wasn’t a soul here to celebrate with [due to the Covid-19 pandemic]. It was pretty surreal.

“The way to beat Sheffield is through the middle but whenever you play in a final, you want to bring out your best footy and I think me and Mase [scrum-half Mason Lino] were a bit guilty of that in the first 20 minutes. We got there in the end, and we put our foot on their throat in the second half.

“It was a great team performance and it’s just a great group of lads. I enjoy turning up to training every day. I love my job and we turn up with smiles on our faces. Over the last year or so, since day one in pre-season really, it’s been fantastic.” 

Gale wasn’t the only veteran in the Wakefield side to enjoy their success under the arch.

For Jermaine McGillvary, despite a fine Super League career, international caps with England and Great Britain, and winning the League Leaders Shield in 2013 with hometown club Huddersfield Giants, a Wembley appearance had eluded him up until lifting the 1895 Cup.

And, although he played the vast majority of his career, which he is set to call time on at the end of the 2024 campaign, at a higher level, it was a special day for the 36-year-old, who contributed two tries to Trinity’s half-century of points.

“It was an awesome experience. I was saying to the boys before, I’ve played a long time, played for England and in international games, but I’ve never played at Wembley so it’s a dream come true and to win makes it even better. 

“Apart from a test series for England, which I hold in high regard for representing your country and beating New Zealand, that’s right up there in my career. Club career wise, I’ve only won a League Leaders’ (Shield) with Huddersfield in 2013 so in the last year of my career I’ve managed to come to Wembley and win a trophy with some outstanding boys. I’m over the moon.”

Of course, that appearance at Wembley was also a long-awaited one for Wakefield, the club last appearing at the national stadium 45 years earlier.

“That’s been the talk of the town. We had an open training session the week before and that’s all the fans were talking about, especially the older ones who were talking about last time they were down here when they were young, so they were looking forward to this week. I couldn’t believe how many turned out as well! They filled that stand so it was really good, I was buzzing for them more than anything. 

“There was a lot of young fans there watching so hopefully it inspires them to play the game if they don’t already. Hopefully, we’ll see them out there in a few years whether it’s for Wakefield or just somewhere in rugby league. It’s probably my last year in rugby league and I’m hoping the game grows so that when I’m watching in five or ten years’ time, we’re hopefully lifting a World Cup at Wembley and I can come down to watch and say, I was a part of the game when it wasn’t as big as it is now.”

Both Ashurst and Gale, as well as coach Daryl Powell, highlighted that more than anything else, Wakefield’s squad is made up of good people, thoughts echoed by winger McGillvary.

“Leaving Huddersfield was daunting for me because the only time I’d ever left in the past was to go out on loan when I was young. Joining a new group at my age, 35 – well I’m 36 now – was really daunting for me, but I honestly couldn’t have picked a better club and a better group of boys. I’m really grateful that I got the opportunity to come here and the boys and staff have welcomed me with open arms. It’s a credit to them for how well I’ve settled in.” 

It’s certainly an exciting time to be associated with Wakefield Trinity.

1895 Cup success ticked off. Next stop, Super League?

First published in Rugby League World magazine, Issue 498 (July 2024)

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