Hull Kr are revelling in being cast as the underdogs as the club chases success in both the Challenge Cup and Super League.
The Robins face Catalans Dragons tonight at the KC Lightstream Stadium looking to reach the semi-finals of the Cup for the first time since 2006.
With two Super League games on the horizon next week – at home to Salford on Tuesday before a trip to Huddersfield Giants the following Sunday – Hull KR are still in with a chance of reaching the Super 8s.
They are ninth in the table, the same points as eighth-placed Hull FC, and have a game in hand on seventh-placed Warrington following back-to-back wins over Widnes and the Wolves.
But tonight the focus is on Hull KR’s quest to win a trophy they have only won once in their history, 35 years ago in 1980.
Many pundits tipped Hull KR to struggle this term, but just like their victory at Wigan Warriors in the previous round, Chris Chester’s team have relished proving people wrong.
The ‘siege mentality’ is straight out of the coaching manual, and served Chester well in his playing days. He was part of the Hull FC team which shocked Leeds Rhinos 25-24 to lift the Challenge Cup in 2005.
“The Cup is different, it holds a special place in my heart,” Chester said. “It’s an important game not just for the players, but for the whole club.
“It’s been a long time since we have been involved in a semi-final, I think 2006 the last time this great club was involved in one.
“These are the goals we set when we sat down in pre-season as a group. We wanted to get to a semi-final, and we need to be in the next round to achieve that goal. But it will be a tough game. Catalans are a good side and come off a great win against Wakefield.
“In the last couple of weeks we have worried more about ourselves than the opposition. We have looked at what we have been doing well. Defensively, we have just kept turning up for each other. With the ball, we have looked after it and completed very high percentages. We are focussed on what we can do as a group.
“With the way we play, we like to throw the ball around. Sometimes a pass comes off, sometimes it doesn’t. But we have found out if we keep hold of the ball, complete around 80 per cent, you generally win games.
“This year has proved that. When we have completed over 80 per cent, we have won all the games we have been involved in.
“The more you keep hold of the ball, the less defending you have to do. Because we have been completing high, the more energy we have had defensively.”
Chester has great memories of the Millennium Stadium in 2005, when he helped the Black and Whites surprise favourites Leeds, thanks to Paul Cooke’s late converted try.
“It was a great build-up and great day,” he recalled. “Again, nobody really gave us a chance as we were playing Leeds, who were flying high and had won the Grand Final the year before.
“We drew a lot of things from people writing us off, we came good in the end.
“It’s who performs on the day and it will be the same on Thursday night. If we don’t perform the way we have done these last couple of weeks, it will be us who gets knocked out. My job is to make sure we turn up.
“There’s only been once at home where we have been out-enthused – against Castleford, who marched us down the field with ease at times.
“We had a good conversation after that game on things which were letting us down. Credit to the boys and to the staff for keep putting the hours in.
“We seem to have turned a bit of a corner, in terms of our attitude defensively. We set a couple of records in terms of missed tackles, 18 against Widnes and 16 against Warrington.”
With the club fighting on two fronts for honours, which would Chester choose, if pushed for an answer, a Challenge Cup final or top-eight spot?
“It’s a little bit unfair, but I think these people who turn up in their thousands deserve a day out at Wembley,” replied Chester.
“It’s been a long time since this club went to Wembley. The competition holds a special place in my heart, and head, having been fortunate to have won it.
“I would probably say the Challenge Cup, especially for the people here, who have endured some tough times over the last 10 years.
“A Challenge Cup run would be nice, but we do want to finish in the top eight. People like Neil Hudgell and the rest of the directors deserve a good day out at Wembley. They have put a heck of a lot of time and money into this club to make it a success.”