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Jon Wilkin Column: Time to move Challenge Cup to earlier in season
THE weekend marked an important fixture for us in the context of the season, following consecutive defeats against the white hot Warrington and in form Wakefield a reaction was required.
Going into Grand Final run in with three defeats on the bounce puts you in an impossible position in term of confidence and also a weaker league position making achieving anything this year very unlikely.
In Castleford we faced an opposition whose form has capitulated as they seem to be doing some soul searching and desperately try to recruit some experience.
Facing a side in this position is always tricky for a number of reasons. Firstly, they have very little to lose and when that’s the case an unpredictability to the play can be expected.
Also players take pride in what they do and it is always likely that a side in bad form will react at some stage.
Thankfully we did enough at the weekend to discourage Castleford from performing and without really getting near top gear we cruised to victory and are relatively happy with how we played.
We do, however, acknowledge that a marked improvement is needed should we aspire to win the Grand Final this year - which of course we do. The difference between the weekly rounds and the play-offs is huge.
In Super League your form can fluctuate week-to-week, but in the play offs you need to able to produce two or three big game performances in a row and that’s why, in my opinion, Saints have been able to get to the Grand Final more often than not in the 10 years I have been at the club.
With being injured I had the pleasure of sitting in the sponsors lounge at Langtree Park at the weekend saw a celebration of our great club’s amazing association with the Challenge Cup.
We had a winner from every side since 1956 on my table and it was amazing to listen to some of the stories from yesteryear and think how much the game has changed.
The guest on the table included Alex Murphy OBE, Eric Chisnall, Tommy Martyn, Anthony Sullivan, Wilf Smith, Austin Rhodes and finally John Mantle.
John Mantle for an older guy is still a bigger build than many of our first team and whilst shaking his hand I couldn't help but imagine the way he used that big, physical frame over the years.
I love to meet people from the clubs past and share in the heritage of the club, our future as a club has been shaped by the efforts of players in the past and the current squad carries the clubs torch into the future with pride and passion and also acknowledging that the last 10 years of the club has been possibly the clubs most fruitful period.
Paul Wellens has won five challenge cups out of six and four grand finals out of nine – it’s amazing to hear that and it always blows me away. The current era has been successful but without the heroes from the past our sense of belonging to something bigger wouldn't be there.
The Challenge Cup Final this weekend always draws emotion from me - I love the competition and everything it stands for. To celebrate this I held a Challenge Cup winners night at Langtree Park for my Testimonial.
One of the questions from the fantastic supporting crowd of Saints fans was: “Explain the most memorable moment of your career?”
Robbie Hunter Paul described the feeling of walking out at a Challenge Cup Final as well as I have ever heard it be described.
He spoke of an atmosphere that you can feel and as you exit the tunnel you can physically feel the energy from 80-90,000 fans hits you smack in the face.
It feels almost like a hot and humid wall of noise slams into your body, it is the most amazing feeling and I completely empathise with Robbie's recollections
It is so special and I am envious of the players that get to feel that again at Wembley this year
Lee Briers also attended, along with Wello and Shaun McRae. It was a great build up to what is my favourite competition in the game and I want to wish both sides luck this weekend.
I do feel, however, that the final is now far too close to the end of the year.
he competition should be held much earlier in the year to put distance between the big games in the year.
It would rejuvenate the cup rather than tinkering with the format, look and feel of the competition.
Anyone who wants to attend The IRN BRU Comedy Night hosted by Johnny Vegas on Sunday, 9 September can collect tickets from the Langtree Park Ticket office.
TV comedian Patrick Monaghan has been confirmed. It will be a great night and I hope as many of you attend as possible. Tickets are £15, doors open at 7 for an 8pm start.