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Last Updated: Thursday, 29 March 2007, 13:41 GMT 14:41 UK
Jon Wilkin column
Jon Wilkin

By Jon Wilkin
St Helens back row

I think I echo the thoughts of everyone in rugby league when I say that it is good to see Wembley finally back in action.

The new stadium seems to have everyone who has seen it purring with excitement.

And the prospect of playing there in front of a sell-out crowd and singing the national anthem already has the hairs on the back of my neck standing up.

I used to travel down with my dad and junior rugby team to watch the Challenge Cup final, and it is where I first started to dream about doing what I do now.

Wembley Stadium
The new Wembley Stadium will host the Challenge Cup final in August

Seeing the players running around in front of a massive crowd at such an amazing stadium really sparked something inside me, a skinny and pretty talentless farm boy as I was back then.

Some people will argue not much has changed in that respect, apart from the lack of agriculture in my life!

I spoke to Sean Long and Paul Wellens about Wembley, assuming they'd have played there. To my disbelief, they never have.

So you can imagine how motivated we are at St Helens to reach yet another Challenge Cup final.

It would be amazing to be able to look back and say we played in the first-ever rugby fixture at the new stadium.

We play Batley in the fourth round on Friday and I'm sure their players are just as determined to play at Wembley as we are.

That's because there is something very special about the Challenge Cup.

I don't know what it is, but it has always been the main trophy in the rugby season.

It reminds me of history, tradition, meat pies, mud, leather boots, Eddie Waring, Ray French and, last but not least, broken noses!

Last week's fixture against my old team, Hull KR, was a very physical encounter by modern standards.

And it got me thinking.

If you look back in history, the eye gouge, the stiff arm and the horrendous high tackle were much more common and possibly considered as legitimate ways of dominating your opposite number.

I think the balance between the laws of the game and aggressive physical contact is just about right these days.

However, the trend, as time passes, seems to be that more and more of the things that make our game interesting are frowned upon.

Rugby league is inherently physical and should remain so.

I would not like my sport to become a timid version of what we get now.

There is always a lot of talk about rugby league being a brilliant game to watch and play.

I obviously agree but am well aware that I view the game through rose-tinted glasses.

I also wonder what the future holds for my sport.

Will it ever really expand and become popular in the south of France? Will it ever take off in London?

The reality is only time will tell.

At the moment, the game is largely restricted to the M62 corridor between Liverpool and Hull.

Steve Gerrard celebrates scoring for England against Andorra on Wednesday
Can you get me Steve G's autograph mister?

For the game to succeed elsewhere, children must start playing the game in bigger numbers, because it's the kids who will make the difference in years to come.

I must praise the development teams in areas that are not traditionally associated with rugby league.

They face a tough but rewarding task, and I know they work very hard.

I have done some work in schools in Liverpool myself and, unless you wear a blue or red shirt, it's very hard to command the attention of the pupils.

I'm often approached by a child who, with paper in hand, asks me whether I can get hold of Steven Gerrard's autograph.

It's that kind of attitude rugby league is up against, and therein lies the challenge.

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