From Wembley glory to Grand Final heartbreak, Stefan Ratchford might have been forgiven for thinking he had seen it all in over a decade with Warrington Wolves.
But nothing prepared Ratchford, who can also list a League Leaders’ Shield among his achievements since his 2012 switch from Salford Red Devils, for last season’s almost unthinkable prospect of relegation from the Betfred Super League.
Despite winning their first three matches of the 2022 campaign, Daryl Powell’s men lurched into a desperate run of two wins from their next 12 games, and were ultimately only spared an ignominious drop into the Championship by bottom club Toulouse.
The rawness of such memories is precisely why 36-year-old Ratchford, who was handed the permanent captaincy for the first time this season, is refusing to get carried away by a remarkable shift in fortunes that has seen his side surge to a 100 per cent record from their first five games.
“We were four from five at the start of last year but that’s when the downward spiral set in. I’ve never known a year like it – on the field we were below standard, and off the field we had 14 players out of contract, and a new coaching staff trying to impose their systems.
“We knew it wasn’t going to be all sunshine and rainbows, but we didn’t expect it to be that bad. But when some of the new signings started to get announced, it felt like the turnaround was imminent, and the lads have all come in and done a brilliant job.”
With Josh McGuire yet to make his competitive debut as he serves a seven-match ban following his sending-off in a pre-season friendly, and the progress of fellow new recruits Sam Kasiano and Gil Dudson hampered by injuries, the improvement becomes all the more impressive.
After the slog of the previous campaign, the 34-year-old Ratchford, who has switched from the halves to a relatively unfamiliar role at left-centre, is convinced he will get the chance to sample more big occasions with the club before he hangs up his boots.
“Ever since I’ve been here, with the squads we put together, we have every right to believe we should be pushing for Challenge Cup finals and Grand Finals. We know that we’re nowhere near the finished article at the moment, but that is what this club needs to aspire to.”