Andy Gregory will renew a relationship with rugby league’s grand old knockout competition which stretches back more than four decades when he sends out Wigan St Patricks to face Rochdale Mayfield in the First Round of the Betfred Challenge Cup this weekend – a tie which will be streamed live and free on The Sportsman.
The former Great Britain scrum half, whose iconic status in the sport was confirmed with his induction to the Rugby League Hall of Fame in 2018, was persuaded to rejoin St Patricks - where he first caught the eyes of professional clubs as a teenager in the late 1970s - just before Christmas by the combination of some old friends and his wife.
It was on February 15, 1981 that Gregory made his first Challenge Cup appearance, for Widnes in a 50-0 win against Doncaster at Naughton Park. Within three months, he was making the first of his eight Wembley appearances, and scoring a try in an 18-9 win against Hull Kingston Rovers – all at the age of 19.
Now, having turned 60 last August, he’s relishing the prospect of travelling to Mayfield, and urging the latest generation of St Patricks players to draw deeply from the magic of the Challenge Cup.
“Amateur clubs didn’t play in the Challenge Cup when I was at St Pats as a young lad, and I think it’s brilliant that they’re now involved in these early rounds,” he said.
“It’s a bit tricky coming when it does, as the first game of the season with a few more weeks before we start in the league. So we’re missing a few people this weekend, and it’s going to be a tough game anyway up at Mayfield.
“But you never know in the Cup – that’s why it’s such a special competition, and that’s what I’ll be saying to the lads, ‘Go out there, give it your best, and you never know.’
“And then after the game, I’m looking forward to catching up with some old friends at Mayfield, and if it goes well we’ll be back in Wigan looking ahead to the Second Round. I’ve been out of the game for a while so it’s nice to be involved in the Challenge Cup again.
“To tell you the truth, when I’ve been asked in recent years if I wanted to get back into coaching, I’ve said no. Even when I saw a few of the St Pats lads before Christmas, and they asked me to come down, I wasn’t sure.
“But it was my wife, a Liverpudlian who doesn’t really know the difference between a rugby ball and a boiled egg, who said to me to have a think about it. Maybe I could give something back to St Pats.
“I’m glad I listened to her - I’ve been enjoying it. They’re a great set of lads – and this week we’ve got a cup tie.”
Gregory is one of so many greats of the game who honed their skills at the St Patricks club, joining them as a 16-year-old and earning individual awards and Lancashire selection before he was famously snapped up by Widnes, who were then the Cup Kings.
He played three times at Wembley for the Chemics, with that initial win against Hull KR followed by a draw against Hull FC – and then a victory against Alex Murphy’s Wigan in 1984 which was bitter sweet for Gregory.
“I did enjoy it, but I knew one day I was going to be back there playing for Wigan, not against them,” he recalled.
“In 1988 we were playing Halifax, we were winning pretty easy, and with two minutes to go, the announcement came up, today’s Lance Todd Trophy winner is the Wigan number seven, Andy Gregory. I looked at my shirt, and thought how could it get any better for a Wiganer? Winning the Cup, and the Lance Todd, at Wembley with your hometown club.”
Of course Gregory repeated that feat two years later against Warrington, becoming the first player to win the Lance Todd twice at Wembley.
For so many rugby league fans well beyond Wigan this weekend, the sight of Andy Gregory back on the touchline, with St Pats, in the Betfred Challenge Cup, will be an uplifting start to the 2022 season.
The Rochdale Mayfield versus Wigan St Patricks tie will kick off at 215pm, with live streaming on TheSportsman.com. The 2022 Betfred Challenge Cup kicks off with a single tie on Friday night, as Bridgend Blue Bulls host the Royal Navy at Pyle RFC.