“If I wasn’t getting nervous I’d be worried,” says one of Wigan’s most experienced and dependable stars, over a coffee on the eve of yet another Betfred Challenge Cup final for his beloved club.
“I feel butterflies and get frightened and I love that. I’ve had good times and bad times and that allows me to know the job ahead.”
Liam Farrell has trodden the path from dependable squad man to unsung hero to Wigan legend. The 31-year-old England international is finding the form of his life in the twilight of his career, and, far from fading, Farrell is still one of the first names on the Warriors team sheet as the club prepares to face Huddersfield Giants in Saturday’s showpiece final at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.
The back-row forward lifted rugby league’s famous silverware as a relative youngster in 2011 and 2013, his match-worn boots from those games proudly on display at his Wigan home. He admits he thought that winning big games and trophies every year was the norm back then. Those experiences, coupled with several setbacks since, have ignited a fire in Farrell to help the new breed of Wigan stars experience those same euphoric moments that have lit up his own career.
“I’m one of the old guard now and when I got my first wins I was probably a passenger, a younger player with a lot of experience around me,” he tells The Sportsman.
“Now I’m that old lad with the experience to pass on to the kids around me and get them a Challenge Cup win because there is no better feeling. When you get that first taste of success you want more. One of my remaining career goals is to get some of these young lads some silverware.”
There’s bags of advice for Farrell to impart too. He admits he’ll be on hand in the dressing room and tunnel to ensure every single man from one to 17 soaks up wearing that famous shirt on the biggest stage.
“When you are in the tunnel you just hear the music and when you walk out you just hear the roar. My message to our players is to listen to the fans screaming and enjoy the moment. Take it all in, play your own game, and cherish these occasions. Don’t let the game pass you by and do all the simple things really well. It sounds simple but when the intensity is higher than it will have been all year it is hard to do.”
Farrell’s contract expires at the end of the season but he bleeds cherry and white and has never had any desire to leave. I’m told a new deal is already on the table and he will finish his career at his hometown club.
His own son will not, however, be wearing a Farrell shirt on Saturday, with dad’s team-mate Jai Field the superstar he idolises. It’s a fair choice. Field is one of the electric superstars that makes the sport so watchable, and the 24-year-old Australian full-back is the most likely match-winner.
Field leads the way on the Steve Prescott Man of Steel leaderboard for Super League’s player of the year, and his extraordinary pace has allowed him to host a Try of the Season competition all of his own. Quite simply, Field is the hottest property in the British game right now, and the combination of Field’s feet and Farrell’s head will make Wigan very difficult for Huddersfield to beat.
After spending most of last season out injured, Field’s rise to prominence this year has been remarkable. A quiet, humble and modest player whose temperament belies his on-field swagger, Field is likely to be one of those most benefiting from Farrell’s pre-match words of wisdom.
“I have always stayed level-headed, as you can be on top of the world one day and then something bad could happen to send you back to the bottom with an injury, suspension or being dropped,” Field tells The Sportsman. “So I just stay mellow and talk with my footy.
“I don’t know if you’ve seen the best of me yet. I don’t want to talk myself down but I don’t want to pump my own tyres up either.
“I’m just enjoying the freedom that Matty [head coach Matt Peet] and Briers [assistant Lee Briers] are giving me and the squad to play.
“I’m not surprised how well it has gone for me as I’ve always believed in my own ability, it’s just a few things that haven’t gone my way in the past. “
Field and Farrell have flourished under a club-wide drive to rediscover the 'Wigan Way' focusing on a culture and work ethic that laid the platform for their past successes.
“When Matty Peet set out his rebuild at the start of the year he talked about making the culture right with a club full of good people, who all got along, and got involved in the community,” Farrell explains. “If you’d have told him six months later he’d be competing at the top of the league and in a Challenge Cup final he’d have pinched himself.
“The Wigan Way is being good people, enjoying each other’s company, working hard, and then competing on the field. It sounds pretty simple but you need to turn up and do it every day to a high standard.”
For Field it is their attack coach Briers who has brought out the best in him. A Warrington legend, Briers cites winning the famous Lance Todd Trophy in the 2010 Challenge Cup final as his defining career moment. When the Man of the Match award winner was announced over the loudspeakers with the game still ongoing 12 years ago, Briers punched the air and came to tears mid-play. Such is the enormity of that accolade and what it meant to him.
And there’s a good chance his prodigy Field may follow in those footsteps on Saturday.
“The coaches are untapping a freedom in me to play what is in front of me,” Field explains. “Lee Briers has had a massive impact on me and our attacking play. He has brought in philosophies and freedom to play without shackles or fear of making errors. We are comfortable living with the consequences if we don’t come up with a play.”
The Wigan Way is also traditionally about winning trophies.
And if the Warriors justify their favourites tag with a 20th win this weekend, expect both Farrell and Field to be in the mix for that prestigious Lance Todd Trophy honour, with Briers punching the air in the stands.
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