After three successive semi-final exits for the Warrington Wolves in the Ladbrokes Challenge Cup, the versatile Stefan Ratchford believes that this year will be different.
We caught up with Stefan for an exclusive chat ahead of the Wolves’ quarter-final clash with Widnes Vikings on Friday night, to discuss the sixth-round hammering of Oldham Roughyeds, the ‘great’ atmosphere at the Halliwell Jones Stadium and – of course – his memories of lifting this trophy back in 2012.
Ladbrokes News: You impressed on kicking duty during the 70-10 win over Oldham Roughyeds in the last round of the Ladbrokes Challenge Cup. How impressed were you with how Warrington dealt with what could’ve been a tricky cup tie?
Stefan Ratchford: We knew it was going to be a tough game. There’s never an easy tie in the Challenge Cup. Obviously getting drawn at Oldham’s ground [Bower Fold], it’s quite a small ground and it’s not what we’ve been used to at Warrington.
All credit to Oldham – they played really well in the first-half, and we were off our game early on. But we picked up the tempo in the second-half and ran away with it.
LN: It’s been a superb season for you personally, with six tries and seven goals to your name already. Do you feel you’re continuing to develop as a player at Warrington?
SR: Any player in the game will tell you that there’s always room to improve and develop. I’ve been playing a bit of full-back recently, and that’s made me more versatile.
I’m also training and playing with the likes of Gids [Kurt Gidley], Chris Sandow and Chris Hill, who has experience of winning an international series with England. So I’m around top-class players every single day.
Those kinds of guys are not only developing themselves but helping those around them develop as well.
LN: You won the Challenge Cup in 2012 with the Wolves, beating Leeds 35-18 in front of over 79,000 fans at Wembley. What are your memories of that game? And what did it mean to you to lift this famous trophy?
SR: It’s an unbelievable experience, and certainly one I will never forget. Being in the tunnel, and hearing my name being read out is a memory that will live with me for a lifetime. It was such a proud moment playing at Wembley – not just for me, but for every Warrington player.
Getting there and then lifting the Challenge Cup was an incredible feeling, and I’m determined to get back there and lift the trophy again.
LN: This could well be a close-run thing, with Warrington and Widnes each having a number of superb players (yourself obviously included). How important will the fans at the Halliwell Jones be for this huge cup tie?
SR: It’s going to be a really tough tie, and it’s a Derby game as well, which always adds something extra to the atmosphere. Widnes started the season well but they’ve gone off the boil a bit in the past month or two, so they’ll be desperate to make this game a turning point for them.
They’ve also got some excellent players, with the likes of Kevin Brown, Rhys Hanbury and Lloyd White, so we’re well aware of the threat they can pose.
But being at home at the ‘HJ’ gives us a real advantage. It’s going to be a full house – as it often is these days – and the crowd are sure to be in great voice and create a real party atmosphere. That will really give the boys a boost and push us on a bit!
LN: We’re down to the last 8 in the cup now. Do you fancy your chances of winning it again? And who do you think will be Warrington’s key men if you manage to do so?
SR: With the team we have, we need to be pushing ourselves to win every game. And obviously with that attitude, and the quality in our squad, that gives Warrington a great chance of winning the Ladbrokes Challenge Cup.
We’re confident and all the boys are desperate to get to Wembley – especially after getting so close and coming up short in the semi-final for the last couple of years.
The key men? Where to begin. Kurt Girdley, Darrell Clark, Ashley Sims, Chris Sandow…but I could name the whole team. When players are injured or out of form, we’ve got superb replacements for them. We’ve got a squad of 30 players, and every one of them can do a really good job.
LN: It seems there’s a really great team spirit within the Warrington squad, as well.
SR: Yes, there is. We’re all close off the field and you’ll regularly see us going out for food together! It’s great to be part of such a tight-knit group and you can see that camaraderie when anyone scores a try, and every player comes to celebrate with them.
And you can get all our great match markets here, as Stefan and his Warrington team-mates welcome Widnes for this crucial Ladbrokes Challenge Cup quarter-final clash.
Also, Rugby League fans should keep an eye for our upcoming exclusive interview with Catalans Dragons’ star Jodie Broughton, ahead of their quarter-final tie at Hull FC.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.