WITH this being Challenge Cup Final weekend, great memories will be flooding back for Warrington Wolves players and fans who have enjoyed some wonderful times in the Wembley decider over the past 12 years.

And it is certainly the case for Ryan Atkins, the ex-Wire centre who has spent the week preparing for an appearance with York City Knights against Featherstone Rovers in the 1895 Cup Final – a competition now in its second running for clubs below Super League level that has its showpiece finale also at the national stadium on Challenge Cup Final day.

Atkins was a key feature in the Wolves cup-winning sides of 2010 and 2012 against his home city club Leeds Rhinos, while he also played in the 2016 final when Warrington were defeated by Hull FC and was 18th man two years later in the loss to Catalans Dragons.

The build-up this week for a potential fourth Wembley opportunity as a 35-year-old part-timer with ambitious Championship club York is a bonus he probably could not have expected but when he closes his eyes and pictures his previous experiences some are very vivid.

“The try against Leeds in 2010 is one of my top three memories,” he said.

“Being a Leeds lad, being told when I was younger I was too small to play for Leeds, all my family and friends are all Leeds Rhinos/Leeds United fans, I was a Leeds United fan and liked Leeds Rhinos growing up, to then walk out in my first ever professional final against Leeds at Wembley was amazing.

“I think first touch in that game I got put into touch. Leeds players Lee Smith and Brett Delaney were smacking me on the head and sort of saying ‘All game Atkins, all game, you’re rubbish, blah blah blah’. Fast forward about 10 minutes and Lee Briers put a peach of a kick across the field. I found myself in the middle of two defenders, jumped up, caught the ball, and put it down for a try.

“I’m getting goose bumps thinking of it now. I put the ball down, spread my arms and just soaked in all the boos from the Leeds fans. And I absolutely loved it.

“It was boos because I’d scored against their team, but I just found it exhilarating. I don’t know what it was, but it just charged me up even more.

“I didn’t take it personal the fact that they were booing me. I used that again later on in the game at times when I felt tired, drawing on the energy that they gave me, telling myself ‘get them feeling like that again Ryan and then take some more energy’.

“I laugh and joke about it now, but my mum going mad at me because her windows got egged. We’re from Leeds and all the neighbours are Leeds Rhinos fans, so her windows got egged. When I was younger it was probably me egging somebody’s windows, so it’s swings and roundabouts.”

After that Wire club record winning score in a cup final, the two sides met at Wembley again two years later with the same outcome.

“In 2012, my now wife came along and was pregnant with our eldest daughter. I have some pictures and good memories of when my daughter first came to Wembley even though she wasn’t born – if that makes sense. She was my little cheerleader in her mum’s tummy,” said Atkins.

“I’ve got some good memories, and some I probably can’t speak about on the bus journey after the game with the lads going a bit crazy. I played in a team with Lee Briers, so I’ll let your imagination run wild on that one!”

This Saturday, it will be St Helens and Castleford Tigers clashing for the main prize and Atkins recalls how a cup final day looks before kick off.

“It’s an amazing occasion. The week leading into Wembley – Wembley week – is unreal. The day goes so fast though,” he said.

“You’re in the hotel, you wake up, have breakfast, have a chat with the lads, you pack your bag, get on the coach and within 10 to 20 minutes you’re driving down Wembley Way. I can remember all the primrose and blue, fans with flags and face paint singing and chanting. It’s amazing.

“When you get to Wembley Way and the fans meet you, the goosebumps start. When you’ve done that and taken it all in, you’re in the changing rooms, getting ready and you’re out on the pitch, doing the meet and greet and soaking in the atmosphere. Then you’ve got to flick a switch and be like ‘Oh actually, I’m playing rugby now. I’ve been enjoying it so much, now get your game face on’.

“And I’ve been lucky enough to be a winner on two occasions and I lost it once. So I know what it’s like on both sides of the coin, and I know which one I prefer. It’s either a very enjoyable and short trip back, or it’s a very long way back from London.”

It is 90 years since York last played at Wembley and that situation has brought Atkins a different experience this time around.

He said: “When I came to Warrington they’d already won the Challenge Cup the year before in 2009. I came in 2010 and it was good to get there again and back it up, but I wasn’t there for the first bit of history after going so long without winning the competition.

“Whereas now, I’m involved in the first piece of history for York playing at Wembley. It’s fresh, it’s new. It’s the desire to do something for the club, that’s what I’m really enjoying seeing.”

The 1895 Cup Final is scheduled be shown live by the BBC on the red button and iPlayer at noon on Saturday, with the Challenge Cup Final to follow on BBC1 at 3pm.