YORK City Knights’ tough start to the season does not get any easier this week as they take on 2020 League Leaders’ Shield winners Wigan Warriors in the Betfred Challenge Cup.

Having so far faced 1895 Cup holders Sheffield Eagles, full-time outfit London Broncos and Betfred Championship promotion-favourites Toulouse Olympique, the challenge for York gets a whole lot tougher this evening (7.45pm) at the LNER Community Stadium.

Their opponents tonight were denied a domestic double only by a memorable last-minute winner from Jack Welsby which secured St Helens victory in the Betfred Super League Grand Final.

And over the off-season, quality over quantity has been the mantra for Wigan as far as their recruitment is concerned.

Back-rower John Bateman has returned to Lancashire after two fruitful seasons with NRL side Canberra Raiders. The England and Great Britain international won the award for the best NRL second-row in 2019, helping the Raiders secure a place in the Grand Final.

Also recruited from the Australian top-flight is utility back Jai Field. The 23-year-old is mainly noted for his abilities at either full-back or half-back and is previously of St George Illawarra Dragons and Parramatta Eels.

Wigan have made a solid start to 2021 as they go about avenging that heart-breaking finale at Hull’s KCOM Stadium against Saints.

They have recorded two wins from two thus far in Super League, coming from three scores behind to beat Leigh Centurions in round before before comprehensively overcoming Wakefield Trinity 34-6.

Such an encouraging start to the year is made even more impressive by the fact that the Warriors have had so many players, particularly in the backs, unable to be called upon.

Against Wakefield, head coach Adrian Lam was forced to deploy both of his usual second-rows Willie Isa and Liam Farrell in the centres, with five players unavailable for selection.

It has been confirmed that winger Dominic Manfredi and centre Oliver Gildart will miss the trip to the LNER Community Stadium with thumb and groin injuries respectively.

Bevan French will also be absent, the full-back having only returned to training with Wigan last week after a late return from his native Australia.

Winger Liam Marshall and Field have longer-term problems as the former recovers from an ACL injury sustained last year while the latter suffered up a torn hamstring that will keep him up to five-months in round one.

While Isa and Farrell impressively covered in the three-quarter line, the headlines were grabbed by hat-trick hero Jake Bibby.

The understudy winger crossed the whitewash three times in the second half to take the game away from Trinity.

Even more eye-catching though was Zak Hardaker, one of two former Man of Steel winners in the Cherry and Whites squad.

Playing at full-back, Hardaker was an influential presence against Wakefield by contributing five goals and a try, making him the competition’s leading points-scorer after two rounds.

Wigan Warriors squad: Hardaker, Leuluai, Singleton, Powell, Bullock, Isa, Farrell, Bateman, Partington, Smithies, Clubb, Byrne, Smith, Havard, Bibby, Clark, Shorrocks, Halsall, McDonnell, Hanley, Hastings.