Rugby League

Zak Hardaker returns for Leeds' salvage mission against Huddersfield.

Leeds on salvage mission as they begin defence of Challenge Cup at Huddersfield

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Leeds will be on a salvage mission when they begin their defence of the Ladbrokes Challenge Cup at Huddersfield on Friday night.

Last year's treble winners are bottom of Super League with little chance of retaining either the title or the League Leaders' Shield but victory over the 11th-placed Giants would keep alive their hopes of a hat-trick of Wembley triumphs.

"Just because we're the two bottom teams at the moment, it doesn't mean we can't go all the way in the Challenge Cup," said Leeds full-back Zak Hardaker.

The odds favour Huddersfield, who were the last team to beat the Rhinos in the Cup and were 28-20 victors when the teams met in the league at the John Smith's Stadium last Friday, but Hardaker, who returns after missing the latter game through concussion, says his side will be motivated by their recent knockout success.

"If you get to Wembley, the week building up to it is absolutely fantastic," he said. "It's all smiles, you get a new kit, the atmosphere is quite different to the Grand Final, it feels that much special.

"I've been there a few times and I'd really relish another chance to get there.

"We can salvage something from this year, I'm not sure what it is yet, but the Challenge Cup is always up for grabs."

Leeds have won nine consecutive ties since going down 24-8 to the Giants in the fifth round in 2013 and on Friday will be facing Super League opposition for the ninth time in that period.

"We never ever get an easy draw," Hardaker added. "The only non-Super League club we got was Leigh and they were the best club in the Championship and ran us really close.

"So it's never been easy for us. But, on the other side, if you play the bigger teams first and knock them out, they're not waiting for you later on.

"It would be brilliant if we can beat Huddersfield, you never know we might get an easier team in the next round. That's the beauty of the Challenge Cup, anything can happen."

Huddersfield, who lost 48-16 to Leeds in the sixth round of last year's competition at Headingley, have not won the Cup for 63 years, a point not lost on coach Paul Anderson.

Stand-off Danny Brough is the only Giants player to experience Cup success after helping Hull to a shock win over Leeds in 2005 while Anderson won it as a player with St Helens 12 months later.

"The Cup is very special ," Anderson said. "There are a few lads in there that have had the Challenge Cup final experience but there is nothing better than winning it."

One man who knows all about the magic of the Cup is Batley coach John Kear, who masterminded final upsets with Sheffield Eagles and Hull and will be aiming to topple Catalans Dragons in Friday's sixth-round tie at the Fox's Biscuits Stadium.

The French club are 9-2 third favourites to win the Cup for the first time while Kear will be attempting to overcome odds of 500-1 by steering the part-time Bulldogs to glory in his fifth and final season.

Friday's match is certainly expected to be closer than the 74-12 rout the Catalans enjoyed on their only previous visit to Batley for a quarter-final tie in 2010.

"We're really looking forward to it," Kear said. "There is no pressure on us. If we get walloped, it's just what everybody expects, and if we don't, then we can come away feeling as if we've done a pretty good job.

"I was hoping for the rain gods to smile down on us and for the rain and wind to be blowing downhill but it looks like it's going to be nice."

Batley have cut admission charges to ?10 for adults and ?1 for children for the chance to witness the star-studded Dragons, who have State of Origin forward Dave 'Coal Train' Taylor back from injury.

"It's a great tie for the club," said Kear, who will wear a microphone during the televised game. "We're playing the form team of Super League and they've got a galaxy of stellar names.

"My players want to be able to say when they're retired 'I played against the Coal Train' or I played against Willie Mason or Todd Carney.

"I know this from my own experience. One of the proudest games I had for Castleford was playing against Wally Lewis. T hose are the games you remember and you relish the challenge."

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Rugby League
Huddersfield Giants
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