An email conversation with Jon Wilkin: 'Wembley beckons. It is sure to be one of the great finals'

Ready to run with the Bulls in the semi; Riding backlash of Saints' year of glory; Dreaming of dining with John Prescott
Click to follow
The Independent Online

How big a relief was it to be given just a one-match ban for your recent sending-off at Bradford, leaving you clear for St Helens' Challenge Cup semi-final against the same opponents this Saturday? It was obviously a massive relief to be available for the semi-final, but I was still disappointed to receive a ban and really upset about missing an opportunity to face Wigan in what is a massive local derby [won 19-12 by St Helens on Friday]. The semi-final has been our focus, though, for recent weeks, despite the professional myth that you take each week as it comes. Wembley beckons for the winner and it is sure to be one of the greatest Challenge Cup final weekends.

You have experienced both, so how does the Challenge Cup final compare with the Super League Grand Final at Old Trafford? Is the former still the ultimate for players? Both of the major games in our competition are so very special, it is so very hard to pick a favourite as they produce different emotions! The Challenge Cup fills you with the immense feeling of history and tradition. It feels like you should be playing in black and white with large cotton shorts on. You can't help but be overwhelmed by the great players who have done the same as you and lifted the same trophy. The Super League Grand Final, in contrast, is a culmination of a year's dedication and effort. It is something which is engineered over the course of the season and gives you a collective feeling of special achievement as a squad. But for me, the Challenge Cup is the one.

Why are there so few sendings-off in rugby league these days? The referees have the option to place people on report, so that means sendings-off are less likely. People are more likely to get disciplined following a video review of the game.

Have you got a lot of young fans, who might have been disappointed by your red card, since your recent starring role on Blue Peter? No, not at all. Getting sent off happens in rugby league and children are not as judgemental as people in the media. I try to be a fair player, but it is a contact sport and it is really naïve of people to assume that high tackles will not happen. I do as much community work as possible and love helping children become interested in sports and a healthy lifestyle, and my work with them reflects more on my character than one questionable sending-off offence.

Saints have lost six matches this season, compared with four in the whole of last. How do you explain the difference? We came into 2006 under the radar, following a lack of silverware in the previous year, but people forgot we were league leaders all that year and we knew we could do well. In 2007, everyone has been trying to shoot us down. We are the premier team from last year and you find teams raising their games to play you every week and it is a constant challenge to compete at your top level every week. I feel we have played teams who have been at their very best more often this year, hence losing more games. Also, repeating 2006, we knew, would be almost impossible as it was such an immense season.

As a Hull lad, do you think the government has given the city enough money for flood relief? I'm not sure about this one. I think the whole thing caught everybody by surprise. I'm sure the government will compensate people, but will that be enough?

Your website column is very well read. You thought once of a career in journalism. Do you want to be one of the very few rugby league players to cross over into the media? And why are there so few? I quite enjoy writing and talking about rugby league, it would be a natural progression to move into the media after I have finished playing. But that is so far away, hopefully. The column I write is something to give me exposure and experience in writing. It's also a good distraction from the day-to-day training. I think that few people from the game move into the media because few people I work with are interested in that line of work. It's as simple as that.

Did you think you should have won the Lance Todd Trophy, for man of the match, in the Challenge Cup final against Huddersfield at Twickenham last year? No, Sean Long was far and away the best player on the field and contributed more through his kicking and general direction than I did, although I did push him close, I believe, after my father bribed the panel of judges...

That strapping under your nose in the final - what was it meant to do? Is there any truth in the scurrilous rumour that you have a lucrative sponsorship deal with the manufacturer? The strapping was there purely to stem the flow of blood. They jammed cotton wool up my nose then taped it in. It was really effective and I thank the medical team for allowing me to carry on. I would like to deny the rumours about sponsorship, but if a company reads this I am more than happy to talk.

Will we ever see the real Paul Sculthorpe again? The real Paul Sculthorpe? We don't have a cardboard cut-out at training, you know. I see the real Paul Sculthorpe every day and he is focusing on getting back playing. He is world-class and I can't wait for him to be back.

What will it mean to St Helens - the club and the town - to get a new stadium? It will be a massive boost for the local economy, first and foremost. The stadium will create jobs and a real focal point for the community. The stadium would also be a fantastic place to play and watch the modern game of rugby league and should be embraced and supported by fans and the people of St Helens. A world champion team needs improved facilities.

Who would you choose to speak at your testimonial dinner - Johnny Vegas or John Prescott? Both large and funny, so both in a comedy duo.

Thanks to injury, neither Andrew Johns nor Darren Lockyer will be available to be the guest Australian player for the New Zealand All Golds touring team this autumn. Is there anyone else of the calibre required who can fill in for such players and commemorate the great Dally Messenger in the right way? Jonathan Thurston is a world-class player and will play seven for Australia for years. He is one of the most consistent players I have played against and watched.

Comments