Team Northumbria hit the cup trail against local rivals Tees Valley Mohawks this weekend with their eyes fixed firmly on a fourth round prize.
Marc Steutel’s men sit top of the EBL Division Two table following a fantastic road win at Mansfield Giants.
But Sunday’s Sport Central showdown against Division One stalwarts Tees Valley (4pm tip) will be a true test of TN’s progress to date.
“It would be a great achievement if a Division Two team could make the fourth round and we’ll approach the tie full of confidence,” said Steutel.
Meanwhile, the TN playcaller believes defence will be the key to his side’s title challenge as he instills a new determination in his Division Two stars.
The Sport Central club headed south to Mansfield on a mission to bounce back from the previous weekend’s shock cup defeat to Derbyshire.
And a comprehensive 83-57 win saw TN move to the top of the table and earn glowing praise from a satisfied Steutel.
“In all honesty Mansfield were under strength and it’s important to point out they were missing their main man,” he said.
“But I don’t want to take anything away from my players and they can only beat what’s in front of them.
“That’s what they did and for 35 minutes were were excellent. Apart from five minutes of madness at the end I was more than satisfied.”
TN won three of the four quarters before letting their intensity slip down the stretch.
And the Giants were restricted to just four points in the second period as Steutel’s defensive blueprint reaped rewards.
“I was pleased with the way we locked them down and that’s what we must do this season,” added Steutel.
“Ross Wilson and Ivan Emanuely put in an incredible defensive stint – their effort was brilliant.
“I feel our success will depend on how well we can restrict the opposition this season and the players understand their roles.”
TN are in the midst of a hectic early season programme with as many as three games a week for the foreseeable future.
But Steutel has been buoyed by the return of last season’s MVP Toby Hutton – the influential guard claiming 15 points in 20-plus minutes against Mansfield.
“Toby’s easing his way back into action and that’s a huge boost for us,” added Steutel.
“Ross is also in a position to contribute even though he’s having to manage an ongoing knee injury.
“But I have to pay tribute to Siman Stewart who has come into the team as one of the older heads and his consistency is excellent.
“We are a very young team but Siman says the right things at the right time and is a great motivator.
“He’s doing a postgraduate teaching degree at Northumbria University so I’m delighted he’ll be available for BUCS action too.”