THOSE charitable people at Ladbrokes, the sponsors of the Challenge Cup for a second year running, are offering Hunslet Hawks a 48-point start against Salford Red Devils tomorrow.
It is no real surprise; the South Leeds part-timers have been embroiled in a difficult start to life in League One, losing three of their opening four games since suffering relegation and dropping to tenth.
Opposite them is a Super League side boasting stars of the calibre of Michael Dobson, Robert Lui and Junior Sa’u who are finally beginning to show signs of being a reputable side in the top-flight.
Furthermore, Salford defeated champions Leeds Rhinos a week ago, although that is not as impressive a feat as it once was.
Nevertheless, Hawks coach Matt Bramald believes the fifth round tie at John Charles Stadium offers his squad an opportunity to make a name for themselves and, at least, catch the eye of those watching on from the elite level.
“It is like our cup final, against a team like Salford,” he said, Hunslet having vanquished Doncaster (48-6) and Barrow Raiders (46-12) to reach this stage.
“Hopefully, they will bring some of their star players and we can enjoy playing against them.
“At the end we want to be able to puff our chests out and hold our heads high, regardless of what happens on the scoreboard.
“We want to give a good account of ourselves, so their players know our players’ names after the game, which they probably don’t do now.”
Hunslet do, of course, have a recent history of causing upsets in the famous knockout competition.
They produced arguably one of the biggest shocks of the summer era with an 18-14 home win over Super League Huddersfield Giants in 2003.
However, that Giants side, including Marcus St Hilaire, Matt Calland and a young Eorl Crabtree, were still preparing for their return to the top-flight having romped to the Northern Ford Premiership title.
They were perhaps caught off-guard by Roy Sampson’s gutsy side, who prevented Huddersfield from securing a world record 30th successive win. In that Hunslet team 13 years ago were the likes of Hawks legends like Mick Coyle and Richie Baker, plus George Raynor and the excellent hooker Gareth Naylor.
It was an outstanding team performance on the day and Bramald knows the chances of such a display being repeated are slim.
“We are under no illusions,” he said.
“We know we will have to be right on top of our game and hope they are off theirs.
“We are aware of the size of the task in front of us, but it is a good opportunity to play against a Super League team.
“We don’t get that chance very often because of the way the competition is now.”
Salford head coach Ian Watson is actually aware of some of Hunslet’s main threats.
“I don’t know so much about them as a team, but I know a few of their players,” he said.
“They’ve got some experience; Jack Lee and George Flanagan in the hookers are two really experienced guys, and they’ve got Simon Brown and Ansell, the half-backs.
“They organise them really well and they’ve got Jimmy Watson at full-back, so that’s a good spine.
“From bits of what I’ve seen they’re an enthusiastic group; in the cups they’ve put a few teams to the sword so they’re a team we need to be aware of.”
Salford will be without Justin Carney, their Australian winger on a season-long loan from Castleford Tigers, who is expected to make that move permanent at the end of the year, due to a slight calf strain.
Props George Griffin and Craig Kopczak will also sit out the game after heavy workloads of late but are expected to be fit for Salford’s next league game against in-form Catalans.