JAMES FORD has said it will be a "great honour" for York City Knights to host Wigan Warriors on Friday night (7.45pm) and that he and his squad are delighted at the opportunity to take on the "country's elite".

York will take on 19-time Betfred Challenge Cup winners and reigning Betfred Super League Leaders' Shield holders Wigan at the LNER Community Stadium in the third round of the 2021 competition later this week.

The game will see the Knights take on Wigan competitively for the first time since 1986 and the history of the occasion is not lost on head coach Ford.

"It's a great honour," said Ford. "Wigan are a famous club, with a lot of famous players and I grew up watching Adrian (Lam, Wigan coach) play for Wigan. We're really excited by it and looking forward to the challenge.

"I'm looking forward to it and I'm sure the boys are. Everybody in our team that has played Super League wants to go back or wants a crack at it, so to face off against the country's elite is fantastic and a great opportunity and it's the magic of the cup.

"They'll be really excited by the challenges as our supporters and sponsors will be."

Wigan, who have won their first two Super League games this year, boast an array of superstars, including Jackson Hastings, John Bateman and Zak Hardaker, the latter of whom Ford reserved individual praise for.

He enthused: "Wigan are a good side, they've got a lot of tenacious young players who are going to really rip into us in a typical Wigan manner.

"They will be a real challenge. Zak Hardaker has looked fitter and faster from when I saw him after lockdown and that's pleasing as an English rugby league and Super League fan.

"There's some really good young English players there as well. Smithy (Harry Smith), Ethan (Havard), Morgs (Morgan Smithies), some really talented young kids who are on the cusp of becoming potentially first-choice international players.

"We're looking forward to being challenged by those players at the top of their games."

While the fixture sees York's talented Betfred Championship squad pitted against many established internationals, it also sees Ford, one of the country's most highly-rated young coaches, take on, Lam, now in his third season with the Warriors.

"He's coached at the pinnacle of the game and played at the pinnacle of the game," said Ford of his opposing coach.

"He is where we want to be as an organisation and as an individual.

"I'm sure there would be lots of things that I could learn off Adrian and we'll have a good review process after the game and if there's anything that I can pick up from him then I certainly will.

"But, it's not about me and it's not about Adrian, it's never about the coaches, it's about the team and the players.

"We want to do well for those guys and our clubs."

Ford says that he one day hopes this fixture can turn from an cherished rarity to a traditional date on the calendar, as the Knights aspire to compete in Super League for the first time.

The club were beaten in their application for elevation to the top-flight by Leigh Centurions and are now tipped to be among the contenders vying for promotion at the end of the year.

"That's the plan, that's what we're all set up for and gearing towards at York," said Ford of the club's ambitious plans.

"We've come a long way in a short time, both on and off the field and I think if you're not aspiring to continue improving, then it would be time for step aside and let somebody else take over.

"We're dedicated to continue that progress and hopefully play Wigan one day in a league competition."