Challenge Cup final: St Helens' James Roby eager for Wembley return
By Marc Bazeley
Last Updated: 24/08/19 9:02am
James Roby can be forgiven for thinking 11 years is far too long a gap between Wembley appearances for St Helens.
The hooker is the only member of the current squad who was involved in Saints' last Challenge Cup final at the famous London venue in 2008 when they defeated Hull FC 28-16 to lift the trophy for the third year running.
Having been part of the all-conquering side which won the Challenge Cup in 2006 at Twickenham and the first final at the new Wembley in 2007 as well, it is no surprise Roby thought this would be a near-annual occurrence with his hometown club.
But this Saturday's final against Warrington Wolves is the first time in over a decade the club have been back on one of rugby league's grandest stages and the captain wants to make the most of this opportunity.
"I was lucky enough to go three years on the bounce and win it three times, so I kind of took it for granted thinking 'this is the norm, this is what we'll continue to do'," Roby told Sky Sports.
"If you had said to me back then you're not going back for 11 years, I would never have believed you.
"That's why I'm so eager to get back there and I've got nothing but fond memories of Wembley. Of everyone in our team, nobody has been there apart from me, so I realise how lucky I am.
"It's almost a bit of nostalgia and pride, and I'm so proud to captain the team now. I can't wait to lead the team out at Wembley and hopefully do our part."
"I was lucky enough to go three years on the bounce and win it three times, so I kind of took it for granted thinking 'this is the norm, this is what we'll continue to do'."
St Helens' dominant performances this year in both the Cup and Super League have seen Justin Holbrook's side draw comparisons with the great Daniel Anderson-coached sides Roby was part of in the early years of his career.
But while it does not seem that long ago for the England international, a look at some of his team-mates tells a different story. Jonny Lomax, for example, was watching in the stands in 2008 as a Saints academy player, while promising full-back Jack Welsby was just seven years old.
"You can't really compare them because it's almost a different generation," Roby said. "A lot of the lads I play with now, back then some of them were only six or seven years old.
"You can't compare because it's different eras, different styles of play and different games. But this team is definitely a great team and, personally, I hold it up there as one of the best I've been involved in throughout my career.
"A lot of that goes down to the culture we've got at the minute and how hard-working everybody is. Week by week this year, we've just been doing our job, getting on with our business and picking up wins, and we've found ourselves in a bit of a breakaway."
Roby is the bridge between the two generations, the last link from the great Saints side of the 2000s to the current crop who are aiming to emulate their success when it comes to lifting trophies.
Although the Challenge Cup has eluded the club for 11 years, the intervening period has seen them secure a Super League Grand Final triumph in 2014 and earn the League Leaders' Shield two years running.
Continually being in contention for major honours is one reason Roby has chosen to stay with his hometown club despite being linked with a move to the NRL in the past and opportunities elsewhere, not to mention the fact he is still a key member at the club he supported as a child.
"Over the years I've had chances here and there, but it's that personal connection with being a hometown lad and I couldn't see myself playing anywhere else," Roby said.
"St Helens is in my heart and it's good that throughout my career we've always been up there challenging for trophies. It's not as if I'm just staying with my hometown club because I want to stay loyal but we're lower down the league, we're challenging for trophies every year.
"I suppose I can't ask any more as a player throughout my career. I've always played at the top level and been in a top team, and why would you want to go somewhere else?
"I can win the same trophies where I am and I'm happy where I am, and my family is happy as well. St Helens is my club, really, and I imagine I'll probably see my career out there."
Saturday's decider with Warrington will mark the fourth time St Helens have gone head-to-head with them this season, with Roby and his team-mates having emerged victorious in all three league encounters so far.
The rise of the Wolves to being title contenders in recent seasons has intensified the rivalry between the two clubs and while it might not be at quite the same level as the one between Saints and traditional rivals Wigan Warriors, Roby believes it is close.
"You'll never beat a Saints-Wigan derby, but this isn't far behind it and we've always had great games against them," Roby said.
"They're a fantastic team with so many internationals and we know what to expect, and we know on Saturday we're going to have to be at our best.
"We can't expect to just go to Wembley and pick up a trophy for nothing, we're going to have to give it our all and our job as players doesn't really change too much.
"I know how determined we are as a club, as a town and as players especially."