Holmfirth-based Rangers, a club older than the game itself, have waited more than 135 years for the chance to take on professional opposition and, at this stage of the competition, they could not come much bigger than the Bulls, who have won the Cup five times and were world club champions only 14 years ago.
The clubs meet in a fourth-round tie at Dewsbury’s Tetley’s Stadium on Sunday but Underbank coach Richard Knight says it is the Cup final for his team of schoolteachers, furniture upholsterers, plumbers and landscape gardeners.
“Ideally, I would have preferred the Army or Leigh Miners Rangers at home to then potentially go somewhere like Huddersfield Giants or Toronto or Catalan but now we’ll just have to beat Bradford away and draw the Giants in the round after I suppose,” said Knight.
Underbank were founded in Holmfirth, Last of the Summer Wine country, in 1884, 11 years before the meeting that took place eight miles down the road at the George Hotel in Huddersfield to form the Northern Union, which went on to become the Rugby Football League.
They were responsible for producing one of the game’s all-time greats, Harold Wagstaff, the ‘Prince of Centres’ who went on to play professionally for Huddersfield at the age of 15 and captained Great Britain when he was 23.
They have also been able to boast the services of Neil Fox, the most prolific scorer in the history of the game who was player-coach of the team in 1981-82, but it is only since the advent of summer rugby that the club have broken out of the confines of the Pennines.
Under the 34-year-old Knight, a former Huddersfield academy player who had spells in the professional game with Hunslet and York, Rangers have gained three promotions to reach the premier division of the National Conference League.
And they showed their quality with a 30-8 win over part-time professionals West Wales Raiders in the last round of the Cup in Llanelli. That cost the club around £2,500 on travel and an overnight stay in Wales and, although it was partially offset by an RFL grant of £1,000, they can now cash in on a lucrative clash with John Kear’s Bulls.
“It’s definitely an added benefit,” said Knight, whose father Glenn was a player with Huddersfield and Warrington.
“We’re a few thousand down from the previous trip, when three of the lads drove down on the morning of the game and it cost them money.
“Financially it was a burden on the players and the club but that doesn’t really worry me, it’s more about people like our president Gerald (Parr), who has been there for 50 years as a player and coach and Neil Farrell, our team manager, who has been involved for 25 to 30 years, having a chance to have a good day out.
“If the club make some money out of it just a bonus.
“For the players, it’s their Challenge Cup final, and hopefully we can go there and give a good account of ourselves.
“After three promotions and a Grand Final, the only thing left to tick off the list was to play a pro team. In 135 years, we’d never played a pro team and now we’ve beaten one and ended up with Bradford Bulls.
“If someone said to me in January that would happen, I would probably not believe them but that’s the magic of the Challenge Cup.”