Jake Wardle is determined to erase the memory of a “heartbreaking” Challenge Cup semi-final setback from his otherwise stellar first season with Wigan when the Warriors host Hull KR in the Betfred Super League play-off semi-finals.
The 24-year-old centre was one of the most crucial components of his side’s surge to the League Leaders’ Shield after signing on a three-year deal from Warrington last year, and his form was recognised by inclusion in this season’s Super League ‘Dream Team’.
But beside the plaudits Wardle admits to still feeling hurt by his side’s agonising golden point Challenge Cup semi-final loss to Rovers at Headingley in July – and says it has provided extra motivation as the two sides prepare to clash again on the big stage on Saturday.
“We’ve spoken about it a lot as a group since then, and how it is not a feeling we want to experience again. It has something that has provided a lot of motivation for us throughout the season, and obviously it gives us a bit more going into this week.”
Rovers’ revival since their own subsequent golden point loss in the final against Leigh suggests another close game in what will be a fifth meeting between the teams this season, with two wins apiece so far, including Wigan claiming their own golden point success at Craven Park in May.
Transformed under Warriors head coach Matt Peet, Wardle will once again be key to Wigan’s chances, and he credits his long-standing relationship with Peet for facilitating his swift switch from a relatively low-key signing into one of this season’s most consistent performers.
“He’s big on the culture at Wigan and I think that culture that has been built over the years is what makes it so easy for people like myself to come in and feel a part of the team from day one.
“It’s no secret that my last year or two at Huddersfield were very inconsistent, but I’ve got a lot more belief in myself now, I know the coaches also have belief in me, and there’s a lot more to come.
“The reason you start playing the game as a kid is that you dream of one day playing in Grand Final but we have just got the semi-final to focus on first. Having been on the receiving end of a couple of losses we know Rovers will be coming with a lot of confidence and we need to be on top of our game.”