Betts and the Magic of the Cup
Denis Betts knows all about the magic of the Challenge Cup. He first played at Wembley as an 11-year-old schoolboy in the curtain raiser before the Hull v Widnes final in 1981. Seven years later he was travelling down with the Wigan squad to take on Halifax.
He didn't get onto the pitch that day but that was the start of Wigan's incredible run of Challenge Cup final victories and Denis played in the next seven, winning the Lance Todd Trophy after their 1991 win over St Helens. His last appearance was in 1998 when Sheffield Eagles produced the greatest shock in cup final history when they beat Wigan 17-8.
Looking back on that incredible era of Wigan's domination of the competition he said: "The Challenge Cup was one of those competitions which we held in high regard at Wigan. It meant that the club was where it wanted to be and the fact that we were successful over a number of years was a benchmark. It was a tough line of success really because it just built and built."
Given that the final was played at Wembley in front of big crowds and shown live on national television was an important factor. "It built up the recognition of the players who were involved like Ellery Hanley, Shaun Edwards and Marti Offiah. They got more recognition nationally because of the Challenge Cup success and the television exposure. It helped the club and it helped the whole game."
So does he think the Challenge Cup holds the same magic now? "I think it does," he says. "You get to a certain point in the season where you're looking at it. There's still that magic and feel about it, anything can happen. You have to be on your game and you're four matches away from being a successful team.
"You need a bit of luck in the draw and you need to play particularly well in knock out rugby but there's always that opportunity. You're just three or four games away from something very, very special."
Having played for one club with a great Challenge Cup tradition he now coaches another, Widnes, who were known as the "Cup Kings" in the 1970s. "Being involved with a club who have a great tradition with the cup generates a buzz and you can feel that at Widnes. It will be a great spectacle on the weekend when we play another side who have had so much success in the Challenge Cup in a different era."
So how is the approach to cup game different? "It’s a game that the players have to get physically ready for. After such a tough Easter period, it's just a short turnaround and you've got some very very tired bodies. Maybe you’d like a little be more time and preparation to build up and get the focus right.
"But if anything, the Challenge Cup gives you another focus so you can energise people with the change in focus."
Tickets for the 2012 Carnegie Challenge Cup Final at Wembley Stadium on Saturday August 25 cost from just £21 and are now on sale. Family tickets giving access to one of British sport’s most historic fixtures to two adults and two children are also available, priced £55 or £79.
To purchase tickets please call the RFL Ticket Office on 0844 856 1113 or visit www.carnegiechallengecup.co.uk/