York City Knights captain Tim Spears is recalling the famous day in 2012 when he and his Featherstone Rovers side stunned Castleford Tigers 23-16 in the Challenge Cup.
The subject springs to mind as Spears’s part-timers York are hoping to spring a similar surprise when Super League Catalans Dragons arrive at Bootham Crescent for a fifth-round tie tomorrow.
If they do, it will surpass anything Featherstone did – they were a Championship side at the time, but Spears’s current crew operate in League One and no side has beaten Super League opposition from there since Hunslet Hawks defeated Huddersfield Giants in 2003.
Still, the veteran second-row is drawing on all that experience ahead of tomorrow’s game.
“That day with Fev is still – of all the games I’ve played – probably the highlight of my career,” 33-year-old Spears told The Yorkshire Post.
“It was such a big local derby and living in the area with Cas and Fev fans you couldn’t really escape it all in the build-up.
“I was getting told at work by Cas fans how many we’d lose by. Even people I didn’t think were interested in rugby league were talking about it.
“Daryl Clark scored for them early on and people probably sensed we would get thrashed.
“But we hung in there, clawed our way back in – I still remember Ian Hardman strolling in for a try dead cool – Cas started to unravel, we pulled together and got a famous win.
“It was brilliant. Six years on I remember every tackle.”
Spears, who started his career with Castleford, accepts tomorrow’s contest is different because there is a bigger gulf given York are two divisions below their French opponents.
Nevertheless, Catalans are in dire straits at the bottom of Super League after Sunday’s 41-0 defeat, ironically, at the Tigers.
It is no surprise Steve McNamara has named his strongest squad possible with Kangaroos veteran Greg Bird and Papuan ace Paul Aiton restored to his 19-man squad.
York, under impressive young coach James Ford, are joint-top of League 1 having lost just once so far, the narrow defeat to Bradford Bulls that attracted a crowd of more than 4,000 to Bootham Crescent.
The Ladbrokes Challenge Cup has been doing the rounds across the Minster city all week in schools, clubs and businesses, swelling support and interest for a club that, under new owner Jon Flatman’s consortium, hope one day to reach Super League itself. Furthermore, the contest is being streamed live by the BBC.
Spears – who turned down Bradford to join York from Featherstone last season – said: “It’s no secret Catalans are struggling a little. But when you look at their roster they have great players.
“We know how strong they’ll be. But I’ve been saying to the boys this week all the pressure is on them. Even if it is a cliché.
“If we can keep it tight early on then that pressure grows further. If they score quickly and again soon after that pressure valve releases, but if we defend well in that first 20 minutes, kick well and complete our sets, it makes it more difficult for them.
“I remember Cas overplaying six years ago; they felt they should be scoring all the time and they weren’t. They ended up unravelling. If we can have the same mentality against Catalans we can try to do the same.
“It’ll be difficult given the size of them and we’ll have to play outstandingly well, but we’ll give it a real crack.”
Meanwhile, Bradford head to Super League Warrington Wolves who won at Wembley three times in four years under previous coach Tony Smith.
Bulls, World Club champions as recently as 2006, have fallen to the third tier.
But Warrington’s former England forward Ben Westwood says there will be no mercy this afternoon with his club seeking a seventh straight win.
“We want to have a crack at everything,” he said.
“We’ve had a good run in the Cup in recent years, but we’ve got our eyes set on some pretty big things this year. Obviously you don’t take things lightly.
“It’s sad to see where Bradford are at the minute with all the history they’ve got, but it will be nice to play them. It should be a winnable game for us and we want a really good performance.”
Super League Hull KR have left out Danny McGuire, Robbie Mulhern and Justin Carney as they visit Oldham tomorrow, part-timers who dumped them out of the Cup as recently as 2016.