Real men cry and that was the case at Wembley Stadium on 29 August 2009.
As the final hooter rang around London’s iconic venue to give Warrington a 25-16 win over Huddersfield, the most striking image that still remains with me from that day was not something which occurred on the pitch but of a grown man stood in front of me in floods of tears being consoled by his wife.
“Why’s he crying?” my naive 16-year-old self wondered. “We did it… we won!”
But it’s only now on reflection do I understand the significance of that Wembley win – the club’s first in 35 years.
Flash-forward to the present day and Warrington, now a leading force in Super League, are currently chasing an elusive treble, with this Saturday’s Challenge Cup final the first piece of the jigsaw.
But it wasn’t always this way. When I first began supporting the club in 2002 the side were at the foot of the Super League table battling relegation. It was only a penultimate day of the season win over Castleford which meant the Wolves narrowly avoided the drop that year. That of course came just a couple of years after the very real prospect of the club folding and ceasing to exist due to financial troubles.
When I used to watch other teams battling it out in the Challenge Cup Final and Grand Final growing up I used to sit back and think of how incredible it would be to one day see my team competing in those finals. But it always felt like an impossible dream.
To put it bluntly, Simon Moran’s investment in the club has helped turn that dream into a reality. The transformation didn’t happen overnight but the way the club has progressed and grown over the last decade from being Super League strugglers to now potentially being two months away from writing their name in the history books is extraordinary.
Head coach Tony Smith will lead Warrington out for the fourth time at Wembley on Saturday and shortly after his appointment in March 2009 made winning the competition his top priority.
The route to the final was not easy that year. A golden-point drop-goal from Lee Briers saw the Wire edge past Hull KR in the quarter-finals before the side overcame a tough test against local rivals Wigan 39-26 in a tense semi-final.
But they were there and for the first time in 19 years Warrington had a chance at lifting silverware.
Most of the pre-match talk from fans was that the result was irrelevant and simply making the final was an achievement in itself. That notion quickly changed once Richie Mathers crossed inside the opening two minutes to give the Wolves an early lead.
The game was a dogged, nail-biting affair but as Briers slotted over a drop-goal to give Warrington a nine point lead with a couple minutes remaining it began to dawn that Warrington’s name was on the trophy.
As Briers joined captain Adrian Morley to lift the cup, the 30,000 Wire fans inside Wembley soaked up the success they had been starved of for so long.
The joke at the time was that supporters should enjoy the moment because it would be another 35 years before we would win the trophy again. The players instantly proved that wrong a year later by comprehensively beating Leeds 30-6. By 2012, it was almost habitual as Warrington again eased past the Rhinos on the Wembley turf.
Ahead of Warrington’s fourth Wembley appearance in eight seasons on Saturday it’s important to reflect on how far the club has come in a short space of time.
“It’s always your year!” Well, personally, in 2009 it was.