St Helens forward Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook grew up dreaming of scoring for his beloved Millwall at Wembley, but never could he have imagined running out there in a Challenge Cup final. Not in a million years.
The tough-tackling Londoner was born within the sound of Bow Bells and raised on the Isle of Dogs in deepest, darkest Millwall territory.
He did not even touch a rugby ball until he turned sixteen, when a chance conversation with a teacher persuaded him to go on trial at London Broncos.
The road to stardom began and, on Saturday at Wembley, McCarthy-Scarsbrook's Saints will do battle with big-spending Warrington Wolves as rugby league’s most famous trophy goes on the line.
The 33-year-old said: “As a kid, I always wanted to be a footballer and I played for a local team called Millwall Albion. At school, we used to get free tickets to watch Millwall and Tim Cahill and Neil Harris were among my heroes.
“I didn’t even have a clue what rugby league was until a supply teacher, a northern chap called Mr Hogg, said 'why don't you go down and try London Broncos' open day?'
“It was the best thing I ever did. I got signed, made my name there and have spent the past nine years at St Helens, one of the most prestigious clubs, with a chance to lift the Challenge Cup at Wembley.
“I’ve seen Millwall play there a few times and win promotion to the Championship, so to be playing there myself is unbelievable.
“So far I’ve bought ninety-six tickets for family and friends, and around £4,500 has gone out of my account, but nearly everyone has paid me back. It's just the tight ones I'm chasing up now!”
McCarthy-Scarsbrook is one of Super League’s great characters and his competitive spirit stems from his east end upbringing and influence of father Peter Scarsbrook and mother Bridget McCarthy.
He explained: “My mum was a fantastic judo player who fought for Great Britain in world championships while my dad played rugby union and did a bit of boxing too.
“I don't think I would have carried on playing rugby league if they hadn't taken me all over the place to training and games. You never forget that.
“Where we grew up wasn't the nicest area, but my mum and dad were always very loving to me and my sister Abbygail.
“We’re a close-knit family and my parents come up north on a regular basis to visit. My wife Jessica, who has been with me since I started playing rugby league, and I have four kids and when I retire we will probably move back down south to be closer to all our family.”
McCarthy-Scarsbrook will be one of several first-choice players returning for Saints at Wembley after being rested for last Thursday’s win at Leeds.
Justin Holbrook’s side have already wrapped up the League Leaders’ Shield and look a decent bet to win the Challenge Cup and Super League title to complete the treble.
Holbrook is heading home to Australia at the end of the season to take over at Gold Coast Titans and McCarthy-Scarsbrook added: “When the NRL come knocking, it’s hard to turn down but Justin has been fantastic for Saints and is not afraid to throw kids in.
“We've got great quality across the board and we're not relying on our backs because we've got awesome forwards too.”
Saints have not reached the Challenge Cup final since beating Hull in 2008 but McCarthy-Scarsbrook has Grand Final experience, having lost to Leeds in 2011 before beating Wigan three years later.
He said: “Playing at Wembley in a Challenge Cup final will be the proudest moment of my career by far.”
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