Ladbrokes is the proud new sponsor of the Rugby League Challenge Cup and the Ladbrokes News team caught up with one of the sport’s most famous former players ahead of the first round draw at Wembley Stadium.
Here, Martin Offiah takes a trip down memory lane and lets us know who he thinks will lift the trophy in 2015.
Ladbrokes News: What is your earliest memory of the Challenge Cup?
Martin Offiah: I think my earliest memory of the Challenge Cup is watching the 1985 final. Obviously I’d seen Rugby League earlier in the 80s being played in the mud but my first vivid memory is that final between Wigan and Hull when Henderson Gill scored his famous try. I’ll never forget his big beaming smile after he scored in the corner.
LN: Can you sum up the Challenge Cup in just five words?
MO: That’s a tough one. I think I’d describe the cup as epic, historical, eventful, dramatic and fantastic.
LN: Having won the trophy four times with Wigan what’s your favourite memory of the Challenge Cup?
MO: This is that question that I get asked so many times and the answer is pretty much decided for me. It has to be scoring that try against Leeds in 1994.
If I say anything else people almost get upset. Obviously I scored that try at the old Wembley Stadium but there’s a bar named after that try at the new stadium and there’s a statue going up in August of that classic pose when I dropped to my knees after scoring.
I’ve got thousands of great memories, winning the Lance Todd trophy for example, but I’ll have to go with that try.
LN: How would you sum up the feelings you experience before a final?
MO: It’s a feeling that is not an everyday feeling that’s for sure. We called it BGT – big game time – I’ve scored 501 tries and played almost the same amount of games but when special games come along you knew that if you performed well, these were the games that will be remembered whether it s the Challenge Cup final, the Grand Final or a Test match.
It’s a special time and a chance to create everlasting history. Even Mr. Fox missing his kick is one of the most famous moments in history albeit a negative moment for him.
If there is ever a time to give your best and more the Challenge Cup final is it. For example I’ve scored just as fantastic tries as I did in the 1994 final at other times in my career, but they weren’t live on TV and shown around the world. It’s all about the occasion and being able to perform on the day so you need to control your nerves and take your chance to create something special.
LN: Who is the best player you’ve played alongside in Challenge Cup?
MO: Two players that I feel are head and shoulders above everyone else are Sean Edwards and Andy Gregory. I think Andy never lost at Wembley and Sean was one of, if not the only player, to feature all eight of Wigan’s Challenge Cup winning sides. So they are obviously two special players and they helped me create the history that I created .They were both playing at half back in the two years I won the Lance Todd.
LN: And who is the best player you’ve played against in the Challenge Cup?
MO: Wow. I’ve had some serious duels. Thankfully I’ve won more Challenge Cup finals than I’ve lost but I played in the last final in the old Wembley in 1999 and lost to Leeds.
I think Jim Fallon, a former Rugby Union international was opposite me when I scored my try at Wembley in 1994 but the fact that I never got to play for England in Rugby Union and he did sticks out. Not that I had anything to prove but it was important.
I played for the Baa Baas and the Hong Kong 7s but never got a England cap in Rugby Union so to play against him I felt it was a time when I had to do something special. I only went into Rugby League as I didn’t get picked for the 1987 Union World Cup squad so I always wanted to impress against those that got caps.
Alan Tait was another one. He’d played in the the World Cup for Scotland so it was satisfying to do what I did to him in the 1994 final to go down in Challenge Cup folklore.
LN: If we gave you a £100 free bet on this year’s Challenge Cup who would you back to win it?
MO: If I was using my head I’d put £50 on Leeds to repeat last year’s win and £50 on Wigan. This year’s final will be exactly 120 years since Rugby League was formed at the George Hotel so it’s going to be an historic Challenge Cup and If Leeds and Wigan get to the final I’m a guaranteed winner.
LN: Which amateur clubs should we look out for to have a good cup run this year?
MO: A lot of the Yorkshire and Hull sides like Hull Dockers and Wigan St. Patrick’s could go well and Leigh Miners also have a good amateur side – you always keep an eye out for sides from those areas to do well.
LN: Which players, past or present, would you describe as ‘Game Changers’ – people who could turn a tie on its head seemingly on their own?
MO: Ryan Hall is the current Lance Todd holder so you can’t look past him at the moment. I’m sure he’d like to win it more than once like I did.
Players like Ellery Hanley and Lee Crooks could change a game with a pass and he was a pretty mean goalkicker in his time.
People like Andy Gregory, Sean Edwards, Joe Lydon and Stuart Wright also stand out. I didn’t know much about Rugby League until a joined the sport but I looked at the history and the likes of Billy Boston and Alex Murphy are players some people think are the greatest of all time so there are a few.
LN: Other than your own – Chariots – what is the best nickname you’ve heard in Rugby League?
MO: I like Eric Grothe’s – The Guru . Ellery Hanley was known as the Black Pearl but Liam Farrell is known as The Ginger Pearl which is pretty funny.
LN: If you could have been a professional in any other sport what would you have chosen?
MO: It would have to be an American sport. I think you are a product of your time so the likes of Jason Robinson and Andy Farrell got to have glittering careers in both codes. But I would love to have played American Football if I was born out there. I think I could have excelled at that.
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