Nsemba filling Wigan mentor’s boots after choosing rugby over football

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Nsemba filling Wigan mentor’s boots after choosing rugby over football

As a young rugby league player growing up a well-placed drop kick away from the DW Stadium, Junior Nsemba would study what Willie Isa was doing. Now he gets to learn from the Wigan Warriors second row first-hand as one of the Betfred Super League champions’ emerging talents.

Standing at 6ft 5in tall, the 19-year-old is an imposing presence on the field as it is, let alone having former Samoa international Isa, a stalwart of the Wigan back row for nine seasons and counting, providing a guiding hand to help him hone his skills.

Isa will no doubt be proud that Nsemba has shown himself more than capable of filling his place in the Warriors pack during his injury-enforced absence, and on top of that the former Wigan St Judes junior now has a Wembley appearance in Saturday’s Betfred Challenge Cup final to look forward to.

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“I’ve got my chance this year and I feel like I’ve grabbed it with two hands,” Nsemba told Sky Sports. “I feel like I’m doing a good job of covering Willie’s position.

“He’s a mentor to me. When I was younger, trying to decide between football and rugby, I was watching Willie and when I did start playing rugby professionally, I was happy with that.

“Willie has been there and is still doing it, so he’s just teaching me what he knows.”

Although it is now his chosen career, rugby league was not part of Nsemba’s early sporting life. His father played volleyball in Cameroon before emigrating to the UK, his mother was a runner, and his uncle by marriage is none other than former Cameroon and Liverpool footballer Rigobert Song.

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Wigan Warriors’ Junior Nsemba shared how it felt to score his first Super League try after earning player of the match against Leigh Leopards

Had things worked out differently, Nsemba could well have followed Song into football. However, from the moment he joined St Judes aged 11, he felt like he belonged on and off the rugby field, and when the time came to choose between the round or oval ball two years later, it ultimately proved a simple decision.

“I feel like when I was younger, I was always wanting to do something, wanting to move about and play a game,” Nsemba said. “Even if I wasn’t good at it, I just liked to be active.

“I feel like I get that from both my mum and dad, but when I was in rugby the culture made me love the sport a bit more.

“As well as the boys, it was the way they were wholesome, and family orientated. It was nice to be in a sport where I knew I could bring my family.

You’ve got to have attributes to play rugby like strength, speed and agility – it’s amazing and I just love it.

“When I got my hands on a rugby ball, I felt like it was for me. It’s how intense the sport is, how fast, how there are different factors to it. You’ve got to have attributes to play rugby like strength, speed and agility – it’s amazing and I just love it.”

Nsemba will have 15 people cheering him on at Wembley on Saturday, not mention members of the extended family in Cameroon who will either be finding a way to watch the clash with Warrington Wolves online or waiting for him to send a copy of the broadcast over to them.

No club is as synonymous with the Challenge Cup as Wigan, who are going for a record-extending 21st success in rugby league’s oldest and most prestigious knockout competition, and expectations are high as Matt Peet’s side seek to add it to the Super League title, League Leaders’ Shield, and World Challenge titles they already hold.

There was a time when a trip to Wembley for the cup final was an annual event for the club, but as far as Nsemba is concerned just reaching this stage is an achievement for both him and the club even with the perennial expectations the Warriors will be competing for the sport’s leading honours.

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Highlights of Wigan Warriors’ 19-18 win over Warrington Wolves in last Saturday’s Betfred Super League match

“The club have won a lot in the past, but I feel personally that getting to Wembley is a big achievement for the club and myself,” Nsemba said.

“It’s something very big that we’ve done and I’m happy for the boys that the hard work is paying off.

“Wigan and Warrington have a big rivalry, and I feel like we’re both going to rise to the occasion. It’s a big occasion, both teams are going to turn up, and it’s going to be a good game to watch.”

Watch every match of the 2024 Betfred Super League season, including Magic Weekend, the play-offs, and men’s, women’s, and wheelchair Grand Finals, live on Sky Sports. Also stream with NOW.

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