IT won’t be unlucky 13 for Joe Wardle if called into Leigh Leopards' Betfred Challenge Cup Final Wembley team.

Wardle has plied his trade for that number of years waiting to play in the biggest game of his career.

And the pinnacle for the former Bradford, Huddersfield, Newcastle Knights and Castleford player would be lining up against Hull KR on Saturday.

But any kind of rugby looked doubtful at times during the 31-year-old’s recovery from an early-season pectoral muscle injury.

However, while not too many of his teammates will look back with fondness on Leopards’ 42-18 mauling at Wigan last month, that match marked his comeback after a five-month absence.

“It is what you play the game for,” confirmed Wardle of rugby league’s impending London showpiece. “You want to be part of the big stage. It is what you dream of.

“Thirteen years I have been playing and this would be my first big one,” added the former Illingworth amateur who made his senior debut for Bradford off the bench in a 2010 Betfred Challenge Cup quarter-final defeat to Warrington.

“It is upto Lammy (head coach Adrian Lam) who he picks for the final but I am just over the moon to be out with the boys again.

“It was tough, especially with them doing so well. You get a bit jealous because you want to be a part of it and be with them.

“There is only so much supporting you can do from the side. There were plenty of low times but good times as well when you hit certain milestones and move on to your next progression.

“I am just glad it is all over. A pec is like an ACL, you can’t rush it because if you do there is a good chance it will go again.”

Leigh Journal: Joe Wardle battling for Leigh Leopards against Catalans Dragons earlier this year in Betfred Super LeagueJoe Wardle battling for Leigh Leopards against Catalans Dragons earlier this year in Betfred Super League (Image:

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Wardle helped Leigh lift the AB Sundecks 1895 Cup last season and was a key component of the team’s Championship success.

Few expected the one-time Centurions to continue their rise in 2023 except the players.

“Everyone from the outside was ‘you’ve come up, but you’re going straight back down,” said Wardle.

“But we knew the vision, we knew the players the staff were looking to bring in. It wasn’t going to be a team thrown together and see what happens. This was perfect planning in the making.

‘People need to give the likes of Lammy, Chessie (Chris Chester) and Derek (Beaumont) more credit.”

So, does Wardle’s dream of playing in a major final have a happy ending?

“You don’t play the game to lose,” he smiled.