Gregory shows true Warrior spirit

by RICHARD BOTT, Daily Mail

Last updated at 11:08 12 May 2004

Courageous Wigan Warriors head coach Mike Gregory is facing up to a bigger test than his players in the countdown to Saturday's Powergen Challenge Cup Final.

The former Great Britain loose forward is stricken with a seriously debilitating blood disorder and will fly to the United States next week to begin a course of treatment, although the 39-year-old has been assured that his condition is not life-threatening.

But since his illness - now affecting his speech, nerves and muscles - was made public 16 days ago, many have questioned the wisdom of his decision to postpone treatment until after the final.

"It is not a gamble," said Gregory, who is determined to walk out at Cardiff's sold-out Millennium Stadium side by side with St Helens coach Ian Millward and their squads.

"I've faced tougher battles in my life and if I didn't think I was ready to do the job I'd have gone to America earlier. I'm ready to do the job.

"Certain things are put in front of you in life and you have to deal with them. I'm not being smart, but the focus is not about me, it's about playing a Challenge Cup Final against St Helens.

"If I lose focus and let emotion get in the way, I won't be doing justice to myself or my players. I'll be selling them short. The emotion can come after the game and, hopefully, on the back of a victory."

Collapse on team bus

Gregory, who earned a twoyear contract after a spell as 'caretaker' last season which ended with his home- town club reaching the Tetley's Super League Grand Final, is reluctant to discuss his illness.

But it was when he collapsed on the team bus on the way to Old Trafford and the pre-Grand Final Press launch last October that he realised something was seriously wrong.

"When I first started to feel unwell, I put it down to stress," he said, "but it was obviously more serious."

Wigan chairman Maurice Lindsay revealed the extent of the condition two weeks ago when Gregory was finally persuaded to ease back on his coaching and media duties.

Lindsay said: "It's a debilitating disorder which tests have shown almost certainly started with an insect bite when Mike was on tour of Australia and New Zealand in 2001. The infection isn't contagious and is curable, but it's reached a point where Mike does require hospital treatment. The advice we've been given is that the best treatment available is in America and he'll go there after the Challenge Cup Final."

Gregory handed over some duties to his No 2, Denis Betts, but has remained in close contact with his players and the squad's preparation for the club's 28th Challenge Cup Final.

He will also pick the side, although he may wait until Friday morning to do that because one or two senior players are on their way back from injury.

Gregory, who played for Warrington for 16 years and lost against Wigan in the 1990 final, said: "I'm a Wiganer who's never won the Challenge Cup."

Track record

Later, as assistant coach to Shaun McRae at St Helens, Gregory was involved in two final victories against Bradford in the Nineties. He added: "Everyone wants to be involved in the big games. We got to the Grand Final last year and our preparation was bang on but we just came up short against Bradford. Saints will be favourites on Saturday and deserve to be, the way they've been playing."

Gregory said he did not have a problem with St Helens selecting Sean Long and Martin Gleeson, who have both been implicated in an alleged betting scandal. His sole focus is on Wigan.

"If we turn up and play on the day, we've got a chance. I haven't lost to them yet as a coach. That'll count for nothing but I believe the final will be a classic."

It will also be an ordeal, but he insists he is ready for it.

Only then will he turn his attention to an even greater battle.

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