It is not supposed to be easy to get to a Super League Grand Final, but nobody's road to Old Trafford this Saturday remotely compares with that travelled by Steve Prescott.
A member of the St Helens side that won the inaugural Super League title in 1996 – when it was still decided on first-past-the-post – he was always known as a notably brave full-back. It will take all that courage to get him to Old Trafford this time.
Prescott was diagnosed last year with a rare form of stomach cancer, for which he has had eight exhausting bouts of chemotherapy and still faces an uncertain prognosis. His reaction, rather than to ask what he had done to deserve that at the age of 33, has been to embark on something which is equally exhausting.
He is defying his illness by walking from Hull, home of his last club, to St Helens, his home town and first professional club, before doubling back to Old Trafford to see Saints play Leeds.
That means covering over 200 miles, collecting donations as he goes for Christie Hospital, where he is being treated, and for the Rugby League Benevolent Fund. "It's very tough," admitted Prescott, as he and his party passed through Huddersfield this week. "We had a really difficult first four days, going over 20 miles a day, but it's worth it for the response we've had.
"We raised over £20,000 in Hull alone, which is unbelievable. People were coming out and stopping us in the street, because it's something that touches so many people's lives."
Accompanied by the Hull and now Hull KR full-back, Shaun Briscoe, Whitehaven's Richard Fletcher and former players like Tommy Martyn and Barrie McDermott, Prescott is determined to defy blisters and sheer weariness to get to Old Trafford.
Apart from those occupational hazards, there are minor inconveniences like no longer having a spleen, but he believes that he is drawing upon the same reserves of determination that made him a success as a player. "People were always saying that I wasn't big enough. I had to go out there and prove myself – prove that I could do things my own way."
In the middle of his treatment, Prescott was down to less than 9st, although he is much closer to his old playing weight again now. He will have shed a few more pounds before Saturday night, if yesterday's long haul from Marsden over the Pennines is any guide.
His only regret about the big day, however, is that Hull will not be there as well as Saints. "Saints were my first club and my home-town club, but I spent 10 years of my life in Hull and that would have been the perfect final as far as I'm concerned," he said.
Seeing the current Saints in action, though, can hardly avoid stirring some old memories of the side he played in, alongside Martyn, Bobbie Goulding and the rest.
"I've got so many memories of great times there, although it's hard to compare the teams. I'd love to have played in the present side, although I don't know if I'd have got in – not with Paul Wellens playing the way he is at full-back."
Wellens was just coming through the ranks when Prescott was at Knowsley Road and he has always had a lot of time for the current number one. "He's a fantastic player and a really nice guy. I suppose he could move to centre to let me in. He's 15st, you know, and that's the difference between us. That's why he can bust his way out of tackles."
Another for whom he has the highest regard is Saints stand-off Leon Pryce. "To me, we haven't seen the best of him yet," added Prescott. "He's got brilliant ability and I'd love to see him used more as a ball-handler. If Sean Long isn't playing, he'll have to take on more responsibility and them he'll show how good he can be."
Prescott goes along with the general view that his old club start as logical favourites, but warns that a narrow defeat at Knowsley Road and a near-perfect victory over Wigan will have given Leeds a surge of confidence. And, as a student of full-backs, he is a great admirer of the counter-attacking abilities of the Rhinos' Brent Webb.
Victory for Prescott will simply be getting there on Saturday night. His regular back-up crew of a dozen or so, some of them recruited through his website, www.steveprescottfund.co.uk, are adamant that they will get him there. If the Bradford to Marsden leg on Monday was anything to go by, it is often a case of him keeping their weary legs moving.
"I haven't had to be carried yet, although I did get in a shopping trolley one time," he says. Under the circumstances that might just be forgivable. The supporters of Hull, St Helens and points in between are unlikely to be asking for their money back.Reuse content