Sam Burgess urges Warrington Wolves’ players to seize chance of Wembley glory


By Mark Staniforth, PA

HEAD coach Sam Burgess will urge his Warrington Wolves side to seize the moment in Saturday’s Betfred Challenge Cup final against Wigan at Wembley after a week in which rugby league has been issued a moving reminder of the precarious nature of life at the top level.

Saturday’s showpiece will serve as a tribute to the life of Leeds titan Rob Burrow, who died last Sunday after a valiant four-and-a-half-year fight against motor neurone disease.

A minute’s silence will be held before both the men’s and women’s finals, with applause in the seventh minute of all four matches on the day – including the schools and 1895 finals – and a kick-off delayed until 3.07pm in honour of the shirt number Burrow wore at Headingley with such aplomb.

In his final message, released following his death this week, Burrow urged viewers to confront adversity and make the most of every opportunity – something Burgess admits may have cost him his own chance of playing in a Challenge Cup final 17 years ago.

In an otherwise glittering career, which included a Wembley appearance for England against New Zealand in the 2013 World Cup semi-final, Wolves’ boss Burgess came up short when Bradford were heavily beaten by St Helens in the last four in 2007, and he is determined to ensure his own players do not make a similar mistake.
“Things you don’t achieve as a player have to go down as missed opportunities, and I never played at Wembley in the Challenge Cup,” said Burgess, whose only first-hand experience of the final was travelling with his family to watch Leeds beat London in 1999.
“I probably took it for granted when I was younger. I was thinking I would get another chance, but sometimes you just don’t. I’ll try to share that message with my players, that the opportunity of winning the Challenge Cup won’t necessarily come round again.
“I lost a lot of games, but I remember that one. It was a lunchtime game and it was red hot, and they beat us quite well in the end. Obviously it was all those years ago, and I’ve moved on. I wouldn’t say Saturday will make up for it, but it will be a great occasion.”
Burgess has had a significant impact since returning from Australia to take full control from the start of the current campaign, revitalising the likes of captain George Williams and full-back Matt Dufty, and lifting them to within two points of the Super League summit after 13 games.
The 35-year-old says it it a case of striking a balance between following the regular weekly processes, and embracing the magnitude of an occasion that has inspired so many, including flying winger Matty Ashton, who first played in the competition as a teenager with community club Rochdale Mayfield.

“We attack each week with the same ferocity, we do our preparation on each team and we try and keep our weeks as consistent as possible,” added Burgess. “We don’t do anything different, we don’t turn anything up or down, we are just on that constant trajectory.
“There are so many external factors. I remember going as a family in 1999, sitting three or four rows back and being part of that spectacle. We are not going to ignore that. We’ll embrace it, but there’s a fine line between emotion and performance, so we won’t overdo it.”
Burgess’s sentiments about the fleeting nature of opportunities in his sport are echoed by Wigan front row Luke Thompson, whose sole experience in Wembley during seven otherwise glittering seasons with St Helens was part of the side that lost to Warrington in 2019.
Like Burgess, Thompson returned from Australia for the start of this season after missing the majority of the 2023 campaign with a knee injury, and the 29-year-old says his setbacks have made him more determined to make up for lost time.
“I played eight years of Super League with Saints and I only ever played in one Challenge Cup final so I know how hard it is to get there,” said Thompson.
“I remember feeling pretty devastated about losing in 2019, and it’s definitely one I want to get my hands on. I’m so grateful to get the opportunity to run out there again. I feel like all my hard work following my injury has paid off, and it make it even more sweet if we can get the job done.”
Wigan’s preparations were hit this week by three-match bans handed out to centre Adam Keighran and prop Tyler Dupree following incidents in last week’s otherwise low-key Super League clash between the two sides.
Keighran’s omission underscores the lack of options at centre for head coach Matt Peet, who could shift captain Liam Farrell out of the second row, but seems more likely to hand a rare start to 20-year-old Zach Eckersley.

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