The Sheffield Eagles will adopt an uncharacteristic role at the Charlety Stadium in Paris tonight when they try to stamp on Super League's most fragile bloom.
The Eagles are the best - some would say only -example of successful expansion of rugby league's boundaries in Britain. Now they present a daunting barricade in the way of the Paris St-Germain club's hopes of establishing themselves. "I wish them well," Sheffield's founding father, Gary Hetherington, said. "Although we want to beat them, it is very important that they are seen to be competitive."
Having examined the available evidence, he believes that they will be. "They will be much harder to beat at home than people are expecting." Paris are led by one player Hetherington would have loved to put in a Sheffield shirt tonight, but Pierre Chamorin opted to stay in France rather than join his friend and fellow-countryman, Jean-Marc Garcia, in south Yorkshire.
"Chamorin is a class centre. He just glides over the ground," Hetherington said. He also knows and respects the ability of two other Frenchmen who have passed through the Don Valley, Laurent Lucchese and Frederic Banquet, as well as Patrick Entat, the national side's scrum-half and captain, who played for Hull and Leeds.
The Paris chief executive, Tas Baitieri, who has watched the players blend into a team over the past few weeks, is another who believes that they will exceed all expectations. "There is tremendous pride in this squad," he said. "Other teams underestimate us at their peril."
There are problems, however, with injuries depriving Paris of three of their original selections for their opening match: Bernard Lacombe, David Despin and Frederic Teixido. On top of that, the tenuous professionalism of the game in France is underlined by the withdrawal of Pascal Jampy, because he has not been able to get time off from his employers.
For part-time players based in the south, as all the current squad are, travel to Paris to prepare for matches is likely to be a recurring headache. "We would like to relocate everyone to Paris, but that would be very costly," Baitieri says. For the meantime, PSG will be the best-travelled team in Super League, taking as long to trek to Paris as most English clubs.
Some members of the side have travelled a long way already. As well as three Australians and a New Zealander in tonight's line-up, they also have the former captain of the Polish rugby union team, Gregory Kacala, and the Moldovan, Mikhail Piscunov, on the wing in place of Lacombe.
Piscunov has been timed as faster than Martin Offiah and has been a target for clubs in Australia and Britain, so his inclusion should not weaken the side unduly.
There will be some well-travelled supporters at tonight's game as well. Apart from more than 1,000 fans who are travelling from Sheffield, a ticket offer through a French TV channel has been taken up by more than 10,000 people, many of them from league's heartland in the south. Baitieri is confident of a crowd of 15,000 and says that the Charlety Stadium's 22,000 capacity could be reached.Reuse content