Halifax coach Simon Grix has urged his players to make sure they “enjoy” the club’s first Challenge Cup quarter final for 17 years when they take on Bradford at Odsal on Sunday (2.45).
Grix was a teenage rookie training with the club’s first team squad when Steve Linnane’s Super League outfit went down 26-20 to St Helens in 2002.
Fax’s newly-installed boss went on to enjoy a somewhat jinxed relationship with the game’s oldest trophy, helping Warrington Wolves to three finals, but missing them all through injury or illness.
“It could be the first and last time a lot of the players in our side get a chance to play in a quarter final,” said Grix, who suffered his first loss in five games since taking over from Richard Marshall when his side went down 24-16 at Batley last weekend.
“I don’t remember much about 2002, but I do know it’s been a long time coming around again, which emphasises that point.
“I don’t think there’s any pressure on us this week; the Championship is our bread and butter, that’s where the real pressure is, that week to week grind of trying to get results.
“This is an opportunity to go out there, really enjoy the game and the occasion and to leave it all on the field. That’s the bottom line.
“Personally, I have some brilliant memories from the Challenge Cup and I learned a lot about myself having to deal with those final disappointments.
“I was ill one year, and the other two I was injured; one with a shoulder and one with a torn pectoral muscle.
“The finals themselves were bittersweet occasions, but they taught me something about putting the team first.
“You’re massively disappointed not to be out there on the field, but at the same time you’re elated for your mates.
“That yings the yang, if you like, so I still love the competition.”
The two derby rivals are locked at 1-1 so far in 2019, with the Bulls coming from behind to win at the Shay on Good Friday, with Fax victorious 21-14 at the Summer Bash just a fortnight ago.
And with John Kear’s side getting hammered 42-4 at Featherstone last weekend, the contest looks finely balanced.
“I think it’s a 50/50 game, I don’t really think either side has staked a claim to be considered favourites,” said Grix.
“John’s got that Challenge Cup magic about him, so it sets it up as a great spectacle in front of the TV cameras.
“Bradford are at home, but it’s just a piece of grass and if our fans turn out in numbers that won’t be a factor anyway.
“I think both teams need a performance having been beaten at the weekend, not just for this game but, certainly in our case, because we have some hard games coming up.
“Batley was a wake up call, because I think it shows us that we’ve been papering over the cracks a little bit.
“The majority of it is about our attitude rather than anything technical.
“There’s no magic fairy dust when you’re trying to change those things, it’s a process.”
Grix was hopeful the majority of the injured players who missed the trip to Mount Pleasant - Quentin Laulu-Togagae, Ben Kaye, Ben Kavanagh and Ed Barber - would come through in time to play, with QLT’s ongoing calf issue the biggest concern.
Backs James Woodburn-Hall and James Saltonstall, who impressed for Hunslet on dual registration on Sunday, are also in contention.
The biggest decisions look to be in the crucial half back and full back slots, although the experience of QLT, Grix’s older brother, Scott, and captain Scott Murrell makes them the favourites to start the game.
On loan Huddersfield prop Jon Luke Kirby is Cup tied, having played for Hunslet against Fax in the fifth round.
“We’re hopeful we’ll be pretty healthy by the end of the week, but we’ll have a pretty intense session on Thursday and make some calls after that,” said Grix.
“Woody and Saltonstall both went to Hunslet and did what they had to do, which was perform, so they’ll both be in contention.