Gareth Ellis has revealed the lure of playing at Wembley in the Challenge Cup was one of the reasons why he quit Australia to return to Super League.
The England international ended a four-year stay in the NRL with Wests Tigers when he agreed to become Hull FC’s stellar signing.
But the new chapter in his career as Black and Whites captain got off to a terrible start, when he picked up a foot injury during the warm-up to the opening day of the season.
That led to a frustrating few months on the sidelines as he watched his new team-mates battle away in Super League.
He finally tasted league action for the first time this season in Hull’s 48-12 win over London Broncos last week, coming through the match unscathed.
Now he is relishing the chance to play in the Challenge Cup tonight against his former club Wakefield Trinity Wildcats at the KC Stadium.
“The Challenge Cup is unique and it’s going to be a special match for me on Friday,” said Ellis, who celebrated his 32nd birthday last week.
“When I was considering all my options in Sydney, the chance to play in a Challenge Cup final at Wembley was something that helped sway my decision to come back to England.
“I was lucky enough to play at Wembley with England in the Four Nations in 2011 and it’s an incredible venue.
“To lead out Hull FC in August would be an amazing experience but that’s not something that anyone here is talking about right now.
“There’s a lot of rugby to be played between now and then and we know we are going to have to be at the top of our game against a Wakefield team which is in good form at the moment,” said the former Castleford Lock Lane youngster.
Ellis spent five years at Belle Vue before switching to Leeds Rhinos in 2005 so knows all there is to know about Trinity – and the importance of an extended Challenge Cup run for the West Yorkshire club.
“I started my career at Wakefield and know from experience that the Challenge Cup will be a massive target for everyone at the club,” said Ellis.
“They’re a very well-drilled team and we know they will come to the KC in determined mood with a strong following.
“It would be great to see as many Hull FC fans there as possible to join us on what we hope will be a very special journey.”
As for the rest of the campaign, Ellis is just relieved to be back playing for the Black and Whites after his enforced time watching from the stands.
“It was great to be playing again and fantastic to get the reception I did from the passionate Hull FC fans,” said Ellis.
“I’ve been lucky with injury throughout my career and that made the last few months all the more frustrating. Thankfully, that period is behind me now and I’m looking to kick on.”
Standing in Hull’s way tonight is a Wakefield side looking to celebrate the 50th anniversary of their last Challenge Cup success.
On May 11 1963, Wakefield lifted the famous Challenge Cup trophy in front of 84,492 supporters at a packed Wembley Stadium.
It was their third Cup triumph in four seasons, beating Wigan 25-10 with Harold Poynton awarded the Lance Todd Trophy for his man-of-the-match display.
Fast forward 50 years and Wakefield are still waiting for another Wembley success, but tonight one of Trinity’s current stars, Danny Washbrook, hopes they can take a giant step towards remedying that.
“It’s 50 years almost to the day since Wakefield last won the trophy and we’re all aware of that and we’re all aware of the club’s proud tradition in the competition,” said 27-year-old Washbrook.
“It would be fantastic for us if we could celebrate that landmark by progressing through this round and going all the way this season.
“Every player in the competition grows up with the Challenge Cup and knows the history of the competition and everyone loves it. We all want to win it and the chance to get your name in the record books is something everyone desires.”
Hull-born Washbrook comes up against his home-town club – he played in the 2008 final defeat to St Helens for the Black and Whites – whom he left last year to join Wakefield, but insists it will be ‘business as usual’ tonight.
“It’s good to still be involved at this stage,” said Washbrook. “Personally, it’s nice to be in the mix as over the past few years I’ve gone out at the fourth round stage which has been disappointing.
“I’m looking forward to the game against Hull. It’s always good to go up against one of your former clubs but I’ll be focusing on the day the same way as I would do for any other game – it’s important we keep our concentration because there are no second chances in the Cup.”
Wakefield lost 34-22 at home in Super League last month, but Washbrook insists league form goes out the window tonight.
“The Challenge Cup is all about winning,” he said. “You can be having a poor run in the league but it all goes out the window in the Cup.
“At Hull in 2008, we made the final during a season where we were up and down in the league, so that gives us confidence going into the game.
“There can be times during the league when, in the last stages of the game, you may ease up if you know it’s out of your reach or if you are comfortably ahead, but in cup games it’s full-on for the whole game and that pressure means it’s all or nothing on the day.
“I know we’ll be going out there to win and we’ll be giving it our all until the final whistle.”
Hull will be without back-row forward Joe Westerman, who suffered a hand injury in last Friday’s win over London Broncos.
Wakefield are boosted by the return of full-back Richard Mathers, who has been out since last month when he suffered a ruptured tesicle and injured ankle in defeat to Wigan.
Paul Sykes drops out from the 19-man squad, while prop Justin Poore retains his place after an ankle injury.
Tickets for the final at Wembley Stadium on Saturday, August 24 are now on sale. Visit www.rugbyleaguetickets.co.uk or call 0844 856 1113 for full details.