Inside the Wembley week of Wigan Warriors’ Zach Eckersley: ‘Matt called me on Monday’

Drew Darbyshire
Zach Eckersley Junior Nsemba Wigan Warriors Alamy

Zach Eckersley played – and scored – in Wigan Warriors’ Challenge Cup final win over Warrington Wolves in what was, quite remarkably, just his fifth game for the club.

This time just a fortnight ago, it would have been a fair assumption to think that Eckersley wouldn’t be part of Matt Peet’s side that would take to the field at Wembley due to the form of regular centre pair Jake Wardle and Adam Keighran.

But after the latter received a three-ban following his red card for dangerous contact against Warrington last week, Eckersley got his chance: and he took it with both hands.

The 20-year-old academy product produced a fine display at Wembley, scoring a try in Wigan‘s 18-8 success against Warrington under the famous arch.

“Matt called me on Monday night and told me that I was playing,” Eckersley said. “Since then, it was just excitement. I was buzzing to play at a place like Wembley and in a Challenge Cup final.

“It was nice to know that he trusted me to play. It made me relax, and since that call, I was just buzzing to play.

“You don’t want to get too ahead of yourself. You take the week as it comes, and try to be relaxed. It’s a massive occasion, but it’s a game of rugby. I knew when the whistle came that I’d relax. But I was nervous until the whistle kicked us off. I was really looking forward to it throughout the week.

“I’ve been talking to a few people and the thing that comes to my head is just enjoying every second of it. It’s a great group of lads.

“Adam missed out, but he’s helped me all week and supported me through everything. I feel bad for him, but I’m glad I managed to get the win for the boys and for him as well because he had played every game. I loved every second (of it).

“Adam gave me different pointers during the week. In training playing 13 on 13, he’s been my opposite centre this week. He’s been challenging me in different areas and then after, any extras I wanted to do he’s been helping me. He’s been first class and I appreciate everything he’s done for me.

“This morning when I woke up I was nervous. But if you’re not nervous, I think it doesn’t mean anything to you. Nervous energy is good energy, and I was buzzing to play with the boys.”

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Zach Eckersley Wigan Warriors 2024 Alamy
Zach Eckersley scores for Wigan Warriors in the 2024 Challenge Cup final at Wembley

Eckersley formed a solid combination on the right edge, playing alongside Lance Todd Trophy winner Bevan French as well as towering back-rower Junior Nsemba and reliable winger Abbas Miski.

“Bevan is an outstanding player, one of the best player in the world,” Eckersley added. “He talked to me all the time throughout the game and I gave him chat back.

“Junior is a great player, and Abbas as well. They all really supported me through the game and we were playing for each other.

“Bevan told me to take the games as it comes, get in the game early. Like everyone says, just enjoy it. You play at your best when you enjoy it, so that’s the best advice you could give anyone I suppose.”

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It has been a surreal week for the Oldham native, who has progressed through the academy ranks at Wigan whilst enjoying loan spells in the Championship last year with Widnes, London and Barrow.

“I had 17 family members here, quite a few came to support,” Eckersley smiled in the Wembley tunnel. “I think they’ll have loved it.

“Family is massive to me, they did everything for me growing up. My grandma and grandad took me to training, I’m from Oldham, so it’s a long drive (to Wigan).

“They’ve sacrificed a lot for me, so it’s nice to have them here and share the moment with them.”

It’s fair to say that Eckersley won’t be forgetting this day anytime soon. He fulfilled a childhood dream, and it’s a memory that he and his family will cherish forever.

“You dream of things like that as a kid, scoring tries at Wembley,” Eckersley said. “Like I said, I got called on Monday night and the main thing was getting the job done for the boys and anything else was an added bonus.

“Scoring tries at Wembley is a dream. It’s definitely something for the memory bank.”

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