|Coral Challenge Cup|
|Venue: Wembley Stadium Date: Saturday, 24 August Kick-off: 15:00 BST|
|Coverage: Live on BBC One from 14:00 BST, with live text on the BBC Sport website|
The hairs are a little more sparing on the scalp, and a few wrinkles have crept onto the face. But St Helens captain James Roby still retains the same energy and youthful vigour he did on his last appearance at Wembley – 11 years ago.
Roby, 33, was only two years into his senior career when he made the first of three consecutive trips to the Challenge Cup final in 2006. That was at Twickenham, but the next two saw him grace the famous turf of the reconstructed national stadium.
Three years, three wins. Yet it has taken more than a decade for the Saints to find their way back.
And the England and Great Britain hooker is determined to make the most of it when Saints face Warrington on Saturday.
“It was just a thing we did,” Roby told BBC Sport. “I was a young lad playing in a fantastic team, and it seemed like year on year we’d go to Wembley and win the Challenge Cup.
“I definitely appreciate the hard work, commitment and effort and everything that goes into getting there now.
“This one will be more special. They’re all special in their own right, but back then it was the norm. But we’ve worked hard for so many years, we’ve missed out and missed out but finally we’re doing really well and have got ourselves in this position.
“Luckily for me I’m the captain, so I get to lead this team out. I’m so proud to lead Saints out in a final and hopefully get my hands on that silverware.”
‘Money can’t buy that feeling…’
As the years have passed, Roby has been a constant presence in an ever-changing dressing room. The epitome of a club stalwart, a world-class player who could easily have challenged himself in Australia had the whim taken him.
The Saints side of 2008, the last to lift the Challenge Cup, had experience throughout in Paul Sculthorpe, Paul Wellens and Keiron Cunningham, allied to world-class talent such as Kangaroos centre Matt Gidley and England prop James Graham.
Those high-profile players helped “bubble-wrap” Roby, as he puts it. Now, at the opposite end of his career, he wants to provide the same guidance and protection for the newer members of the squad.
“When I had the privilege of playing there and winning the Challenge Cup, some of them were only six or seven years old back then,” laughed the elder statesman.
“Times change and the game has changed. I’m lucky I’ve had this long career and stayed at a top club like St Helens.
“I suppose I have a bit of a job to have conversations here and there when I can to calm nerves and tell them about how Wembley week happens, a bit more about the occasion itself.
“Me and some of the older lads – Jonny Lomax, Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook – it’s our job to pass it on to the younger lads.
“We just want everybody to be ready to go on Saturday; it’s a massive occasion and it’s hard not to get caught up in it.
“Money can’t buy that feeling of walking out into a full Wembley that’s roaring. It’s going to be amazing. These are memories they’ll remember for the rest of their life.
While Roby has climbed the steps to the Royal Box at Wembley before, Saturday will be the first time – win or lose – he will lead a side up there as captain.
The Whiston-born rake takes great pride in his role as captain at a club where he has already played 446 games.
He claims he is not an emotional character, but admits the sensory experience of emerging onto the field will have some pull on the heartstrings.
“Its something I won’t know until I do it,” he added. “But certain scenarios such as leading your team out at Wembley – you can’t get much more special than that.
“Maybe I will get emotional? With getting older, you don’t know if you’ll do that again, so I’ll be savouring it as much as I can and taking it all in.
“We can’t help but have a look around and take in the atmosphere; it’s going to be electric. But we have a job to do and I’m confident of us doing our job.”
‘No-one will remember us unless we win trophies’
The main message emerging from the Saints squad is ensuring they live up to their potential after last year’s frustrations.
Saints have been the dominant force in the past two Super League seasons – winning 49 of their 57 league games – but so far have only two League Leaders’ Shields to show for their efforts.
Semi-final defeats by Catalans in the Challenge Cup and then Warrington in the Super League play-offs last term ended their hopes, but a first semi-final win in seven against Halifax has given Saints the chance to end their trophy drought at Wembley.
“I’m confident this team is one of, if not the, best I’ve been involved in throughout my career,” Roby continued.
“You can be a good team, win the League Leaders’ Shield, but is anyone that fussed if you don’t win a Grand Final or Challenge Cup?
“Which is a shame to say because the Shield is the hardest to win, but the importance and credibility is down the pecking order of the three trophies.
“We don’t want to get carried away, because I don’t like talking about things which have not happened yet. But no-one is going to remember us unless we win trophies.”