HULL FC prop Liam Watts says Wigan Warriors will be more dangerous than ever in Saturday’s Challenge Cup final – because they have nothing else left to play for.
The reigning Super League and World Club champions are looking to win at Wembley for the first time since beating the Black and Whites there in 2013.
Wigan, famously, are the most successful club in the prestigious competition’s 121-year history having lifted the trophy on a record 19 occasions.
They have suffered a poor season in the league, however, finishing seventh after the regular campaign although many still believe they can push on into the top-four before the end of the Super 8s.
Prop Watts, who helped Hull finally win at Wembley 12 months ago, told The Yorkshire Post: “In 2013, Wigan won the Grand Final as well. They did the double and had a very good side.
“There’s been a few key personnel changes since with George Williams coming into the halves while Tommy Leuluai is back from the NRL, too.
I think they will be hanging their hat on this Challenge Cup; it’d be a big ask to make the Grand Final from where they’re stood. It makes them more dangerous knowing they’re coming for us.Liam Watts
“They are a great side and have hit a bit of form in the last two or three weeks.
“But I think they will be hanging their hat on this Challenge Cup; it’d be a big ask to make the Grand Final from where they’re stood.
“It makes them more dangerous knowing they’re coming for us. It’s a totally different opposition to (Warrington) last year, too.
“Wigan are a tough outfit who are hard to break down. It will be a real battle of attrition; I reckon it will be a bit of a bruiser.”
Which should suit Watts down to the ground.
The 27-year-old front-row loves the physicality of life at the coalface and is so often leading the way for Hull alongside England prop Scott Taylor.
Having been on the losing side that day in 2013, Watts returns to Wembley for a third time at the weekend.
“That first one came as a bit of a shock,” he recalled.
“I’d only been at FC 18 months after coming in from (Hull) KR and, as a kid growing up, it’s the kind of game you dream about playing in.
“But you don’t really take it in; it gets on top of you if you’ve never played there before and it can be really daunting.
“I was only 23 at the time but, as time progressed, when I walked out last year I knew not to let the occasion get to me or let it drain me.
“It was a totally different outcome. There was also just lots of signs and omens that we’d do it especially given the sort of teams we’d beaten leading up to the final.
“It seemed we’d come too far to not walk away with it.
“We did ourselves justice that day.
“Now, this year, there might be a different mindset from us. Not cocky as such but having won it last year and being current holders, it’s now ours to lose at the end of the day.”
No Hull side has ever retained the Challenge Cup – they have only won it four times in their history – and Featherstone-born Watts concedes they want to push on and take their game to another level in the coming weeks.
The East Yorkshire club are also third in Super League looking to make a first Grand Final since 2006 and, ultimately, lift a first league title for 34 years, too.
“It’s all gone pretty quickly since last year,” added Watts.
“It doesn’t seem two minutes since I was sat at Doncaster Racecourse doing the cup semi press stuff and now we’re here again (at Headingley).
“Hopefully we’ll pick up another win but it’s great for the club that we’re in this position.
“We have the chance to do the double as well and not many players have done that in their careers.
“Last year we had all three things going for us – the League Leaders’ Shield, the Challenge Cup and the Grand Final – with all to play for.
“We finished with the Cup but you have to take one game at a time now and that’s how we’re looking at this to go better again.”
Hull – whose coach Lee Radford will publicly name his 19-man squad today as they set off for London – lost for the first time in five games when they fell 46-18 at home to Huddersfield on Friday. But Watts insisted: “We drew a line through that straight after.
“The first 40 minutes was even stevens but we completed at 50 per cent whereas in the last four or five weeks we’ve been way above that.
“It wasn’t the greatest way to go into a Challenge Cup final but it’s done now. We move on to Wigan.”