Thunder travel to Dewsbury Rams on Friday evening (KO 8 pm), where a victory would see the Tynesiders progress past round four in the Ladbrokes Challenge Cup for the first time in eight years and only the second time in their history.
Mick Mantelli’s side earned their place in this year’s fourth round thanks to a pulsating 18-16 win over Workington Town back in February and were pitched against Glenn Morrison’s Rams by Paul Sculthorp, as the draw took place on the bridge of HMS Bulwark.
The match provides a re-run of 2015’s Challenge Cup round four match for the two clubs and at the same venue.
Back then, the Rams were five rounds into their Kingstone Press Championship season and enjoying a strong start, taking six points from a possible ten with wins over Sheffield Eagles, Whitehaven and Workington Town.
Thunder were themselves eagerly awaiting the start of the Kingstone Press League 1 season but had enjoyed wins over York City Knights in the League 1 Cup, in which they would eventually make the semi-finals and over Wath Brow Hornets in the Challenge Cup to set up the tie against Dewsbury.
Fast forward to 2017 and it is a fixture that will have differing resonances for both clubs.
For Thunder, it not only represents an opportunity to test themselves against opposition from the league above but also the chance to maintain an impressive winning streak, with Mantelli’s men undefeated in 14 competitive fixtures, their only loss since June 2016 coming against St Helens Select in Joe Brown’s Testimonial in February.
Meanwhile, the Rams, their first foray into rugby league’s oldest knockout competition will provide a welcome respite from a difficult start to their league campaign, with progression into the fifth round providing the team with a timely shot in the arm, having lost all five of the Championship games so far.
It is a game set to be played in an atmosphere for big performances and fresh from nailing pressure kicks to secure Thunder’s last three victories, Benn Hardcastle is predicting a cup tie that either side could take.
He said: “It’s always tough to go away to Dewsbury, it’s a small pitch so it doesn’t really suit us, but we’ve got some big lads so hopefully we can use them to get a bit of joy from running up the middle.
They’ve not won a game so far and will be wanting to regain a bit of confidence and they will see us as the opposition to do that against.
Hopefully, we can go there, put up a good performance and show some grit to get the win that will put us in the hat for the next round.
Newcastle Thunder will announce a 19 man squad for the game on Thursday afternoon.