Wigan Warriors star ‘didn’t realise’ how big Challenge Cup was before signing: ‘Now you’re definitely made aware of it!’

Ben Olawumi
Jai Field crosses for a try in Wigan's 2022 Challenge Cup Final win - Alamy

Jai Field crosses for a try in Wigan Warriors' 2022 Challenge Cup Final win - Alamy

Wigan Warriors’ Challenge Cup triumph last year made superstar full-back Jai Field take note of just how highly the competition is held on these shores, and this weekend he’s chasing a second consecutive final appearance.

Born in Forbes, New South Wales, the utility back made the move to the DW Stadium ahead of 2021 after a release from NRL outfit Parramatta Eels. He suffered a bad hamstring injury on debut against Leigh – then known as Centurions – in the opening round of the campaign, and would be out for five months.

Accordingly, he missed Wigan’s two-game stint in the 2021 Challenge Cup, so last year – when they won it with a final victory over Huddersfield Giants – was Field’s first taste of Britain’s finest cup competition.

Jai Field ‘didn’t realise how big’ Challenge Cup was

Growing up in Australia, now 25-year-old Smith has admitted that the enormity of the competition was lost on him. That though couldn’t be more different when you skip forward to the present day now that he has a winners’ medal to his name.

“I didn’t really know how big it was until I got here,” Field told The Sportsman’s ‘The Last Tackle’ on YouTube.

“You’re in the country and obviously at a club that’s had a lot of success [in the competition], so you’re definitely now made aware of it. You can see how much it means to the town and to the people.

“They [the fans] are massive when they’re vocal, especially in tight spots in the game. When you’re trying to defend your line and they’re getting you up, and with drop outs and other stuff like that, they’re huge.”

Wigan Warriors going for two in a row

No club has won more Challenge Cups than Wigan, who have lifted the prestigious silverware, and been in 33 finals overall. Their nearest competitors in that aspect are Leeds Rhinos, winning it 14 times.

The 2022 triumph by Matt Peet’s side – in which Field crossed for a try – put an end to a nine-year wait for another trophy lift in the capital, though it came at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.

With the final this year back at Wembley, Field is hungry to make it two in a row, and wants success in the Challenge Cup to translate into their Super League form.

He added: “Any success and winning does [make you want to win more], I’m sure that any team would say that. For us, it’s motivation. We got to lift it last year, so we’re looking forward to potentially doing it again.

“We’ve been a little bit inconsistent [this year] and we’ve had some key changes with personnel out at different times in the spine and in the forwards, so you’re obviously going to find some inconsistency there.

“We’re hoping that front can start this week and lead us on into the back end of the year. If you win a competition like this, it’s definitely going to give you confidence and it can snowball a run into the finals which is definitely what you want going into the back end of the year.”

Field expecting tough test against Hull KR

Having struggled with injury in his first year with the Warriors, the full-back is approaching a half-century of appearances in Cherry and White, now just two away from the 50 mark.

Three of the 48 so far have come against Sunday’s opponents Hull KR, including a narrow defeat in the opening round of this season. Since then, Field’s teammates have returned to Craven Park and executed a golden point victory in dramatic style, with ex-St. George Illawarra man sidelined for that clash back in May.

He’s expecting another fierce battle this time around with a spot at Wembley on the line, and had some kind words for the Robins ahead of the last-four tie.

Field said: “What Willie [Peters] has done with them this year, they’ve really turned up and competed, and been enthusiastic. They get up and get in your face, and on top of that they play a great brand of footy. They play a free-flowing type game, and love throwing the ball around.

“It’s definitely going to be a tough ask to turn them over on Sunday… We’re quite a young side, and also quite a young side in key positions, in the spine especially. Having that experience of last year and being in those moments can definitely help going into a big game like Sunday.”

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