LIAM WATTS has never, like his side Hull FC, won at Wembley yet he does have in his possession a winners’ jersey from the famous stadium.
The Hull FC prop fronts up against Warrington Wolves today hoping for a performance to help secure the Ladbrokes Challenge Cup under the famous arch.
Any victory would go some way to eradicating painful memories of a poor loss there three years ago when an under-performing Airlie Birds side succumbed to Wigan Warriors.
However, as the East Yorkshire club seek to end their 151-year hoodoo – eight times they have failed to taste victory at the iconic ground – Castleford-born Watts revealed to The Yorkshire Post he does already own some part of Wembley folklore.
“My grandad used to coach Daryl Powell as a kid at Redhill and had quite a big influence on his early career,” he explained about the Castleford Tigers coach and former Sheffield Eagles and Leeds Rhinos star.
“Obviously, as a kid growing up, he used to always tell me stories, and actually gave me one of Daryl’s Great Britain shirts.
“I still hold it to this day. It’s a No 3 centre’s shirt with British Coal on the front and is from 1990 so it’s an old one. I was born that year.
“Unfortunately my grandad’s not here now. He’s passed away and was ill in 2013 so didn’t get to see me at Wembley.
“It’s probably more motivational for me now. I wish he was here to see me Saturday, but I’m sure he’s looking down wishing me the best.”
It emerges the jersey is, in fact, the one worn by Powell when Great Britain memorably beat touring Australia 19-12 in the first Test at Wembley in 1990.
His winger, the Hull wideman Paul Eastwood, scored two tries in one of the most famous rugby league games ever held there.
In its latest hosting, however, Watts hopes to come up against his best mate this afternoon – Warrington loose forward Joe Westerman.
The pair are childhood pals who also came through the junior ranks together at Castleford before playing in the same Hull side from 2012 to 2015.
Westerman, who represented England in the 2014 Four Nations, was sold to Warrington for around £100,000 ahead of this season and is now looking to deny his pal a Wembley winners’ medal.
“We first started playing together when we were eight or nine with Lock Lane and we went to Airedale High school together,” recalled Watts, who was best man at Westerman’s wedding.
“We’ve been through the wars together and both walked out at Wembley with Hull three years ago. Now we’ll be walking out against each other.
“We’ve done quite a lot in our time together and apart, but unfortunately there’ll be a winner and loser on Saturday. One of us will come off that pitch totally destroyed. I’ll be trying my damn hardest to make sure it’s not me.”
That Hull sanctioned Westerman’s departure surprised many given he had been one of the best players in recent years, but FC head coach Lee Radford had signed Kiwi Test stars Frank Pritchard and Sika Manu to bolster his options.
“I think that’s the only reason it went ahead,” added Watts.
“We had so much strike coming in in the back-row with Frank and Sika while obviously there’s Jordy Thompson, me and Gaz Ellis who have stepped up at loose forward as well.
“We can all play there whereas Warrington were looking for a specialist 13 and they got one in Westy. I think it’s just been a bit of business on the club’s part.
“It was sad to see him go, but it was a new lease of life for him moving there and he’d been at Hull for quite a few years.
“It was a new challenge in his life and in his first year he’s with Warrington in a Challenge Cup final so it’s obviously been a great move for him.
“But it’s about us this week and what we can do to right some wrongs from 2013. That Wigan game was terrible. The weather and rain didn’t help. We got written off from the start, but we have every chance this time.
“It’ll be a close call, but hopefully that hoodoo gets re-written.”
Watts, who joined from Hull KR in 2012, has enjoyed a fine season, helping FC to the top of Super League, and he has been touted as potentially joining Westerman on the England scene soon. But Wembley is his priority and the 26-year-old says any success will, in large, not only be down to grandad Walt but his father, too.
“My dad Steve signed at Wakefield as a kid, but he had a few too many beers and I think that’s why he’s tried pointing me in the right direction,” said Watts, who was a little wayward, too, earlier in his career.
“He told me not to get caught up in all that. You learn from your mistakes and he’s always shown me the ropes. He never pushed me into rugby. He just took me down on the off chance.
“Since I was eight he’s taken me everywhere, always made sure I had shoes on my feet, clothes on my back and food in the fridge and, if anything, I probably owe it to him.
“To go down there and share that moment – if we do win – with him will be priceless.”