As Huddersfield Giants prepare to make their 2020 Super League debut today against the Catalans Dragons at the Stade Gilbert Brutus, MARTYN SADLER talks to Huddersfield Giants coach SIMON WOOLFORD about their prospects fro the new season.
It may seem surprising to many people that Huddersfield Giants are the joint rank outsiders to win the Super League Grand Final in 2020.
Priced at 80/1 alongside Hull Kingston Rovers by competition sponsor Betfred, many people may believe that the Giants represent a worthwhile outside bet for glory.
Of course coaches can’t bet on Super League matches, but if they could I reckon that Giants coach Simon Woolford might risk a few quid on his team.
Admittedly, the Giants were disappointing in 2019, only avoiding relegation on the last day of the season.
But Woolford believes he understands what went wrong, and he has taken steps to put the problem right in 2020, principally with two key signings at halfback and at fullback.
“There were a lot of contributing factors to our season going the way it did last year,” says Woolford.
“Some of them were in our control, while some of them weren’t. There were quite a lot of games where we were in a position to win, but we lost, and come the back end of the season it might have been a different story if we’d been able to put those games to bed.
“Bringing a player like Aidan Sezer in will hopefully turn those losses into wins. But it’s not a matter of bringing Aidan in and all of a sudden we’ll be a top-five team. We see our squad being a really good one this year, with a lot of young players who got game time last year making a big impression. Blokes like Oliver Wilson and the Senior boys have had another pre-season under their belts now and I would like to think that as a whole we are in a much better position than last season.”
Last year was a season of contrasts, however, ranging from the 55-2 victory against Hull FC at the Magic Weekend, to a 0-44 home defeat against Leeds Rhinos. What caused their performances to vary so widely?
“Whoever has that answer, it would be worth a lot of money,” says Woolford.
“With a lot of young players in the side you are going to be inconsistent, and at times last year we had six or seven young kids in the side and it’s hard for them to be always at their best when they are coming into and out of the side. When we beat Hull it was the third week in a row when we didn’t really change our team. The following week we went to Castleford and were winning by six points until near the end, only to lose by a golden point.
“In contrast, you look at a club like Salford, and they didn’t get many injuries and that was the key to their success. You have to have some luck along the way if you are going to win trophies and it certainly helps to have your squad healthy. Salford did a really good job last season. Despite having one of the smallest squads in the competition they stayed healthy for the most part and they showed the other clubs that anything is possible if you get your preparation right. If you’re all on the same page, anything is possible. I’m sure a lot of other teams have looked at what Salford last year and it’s given them hope.”
Sezer is the key signing for 2020, to such a degree that Woolford has given him the captaincy.
“Aidan had another year to run on his Canberra contract, but I just got talking to his manager one day last year and we were talking about different players. I just asked him about Aidan and where he would be in 2020, and whether he was looking to get out of Canberra. It then got a little more serious down the track and maybe in August or September we made Aidan an offer and I thought we were close.
“He’s been a good player for a long time. He got his team to a Grand Final last year after playing 160 NRL games. He’s 28 years old, so he’s got his best footy ahead of him. He’s come over here with a tremendous attitude and with a determination to win something.
“I know it’s unusual for a new player to be made the captain, but it made sense. He’s come over here to lead the team around the park, and he’s put his stamp on the team really quickly. His leadership within the group is outstanding, so I thought that with Leroy (Cudjoe) being an unknown quantity in terms of his return, while Aidan is going to be there playing 80 minutes every week, it was an easy choice.
“I think he and Lee Gaskell will complement each other. What we have seen at training between the two of them has been really positive, and we saw against Wakefield that we had some real threat with those two working together. They will play together as much as possible. Aidan is a good talker so that will relieve Gasky of some of that responsibility, meaning he can get the footy and run, which is when he’s at his best. He is a natural footy player and I’m sure Aidan will get us around the park and give Gasky some nice early ball to weave his magic.”
“Ash Golding is a good signing for us, and from day one he has shown he has leadership qualities. I like his style. He wanted to come here and make a difference. He does everything right and works hard on his game. His strength is that he is a very good defensive fullback, but he has plenty to offer with the footy too and that gives us a lot to work on.
“Unfortunately he picked up a hamstring injury at Wakefield and now he’ll be missing for several weeks.
“Then we have James Gavet. Our middles are short and stocky, so we just wanted a big body. The boys are geeing him up and calling him our enforcer. James will make a difference as far as our middles are concerned. He chose to come to the Giants, despite another couple of Super League clubs being interested in him. He is a fantastic guy, very professional and he loves training. He got here later than everyone else in December, to we are taking our time with him, but hopefully we will see the best of James sooner rather than later.
“Kenny Edwards is very enthusiastic and he lives and breathes footy. He is a powerful runner of the ball and he has a great understanding of the game. You have to hold him back every now and then because he’s so keen. You can tell he’s come for the right reasons.”
But what of some of the younger English players at the club?
“You will see improvement in Olly Wilson and I think Matty English’s game will go to another level this year. He’s still relatively young and Jake Wardle is going to be a fantastic player. He will be stronger, faster and he’s put some weight on.
“A reasonable expectation is that we will compete every week, and if we can do that, then the sky’s the limit for this team. I won’t make any extravagant claims, but our expectation is that we can win a lot more games than we did last year.
“Our pack is as good as most and I can’t see why we can’t match it with teams like Saints. I would like to think that we got our pre-season right this year and the boys are fit, strong and fast. You’ll see a lot more consistency this year.
“When guys get an opportunity they need to take it. We need to be consistent with our performances. We were very happy with our hit out.
“A lot of the things we have practised in training we put into effect at Wakefield and we are quietly optimistic that we’ll have a successful year.”
First up, the Giants face a testing trip to Perpignan to face the Catalans Dragons today, but Woolford isn’t unhappy about that.
“I don’t mind getting it out of the way early. It’s probably better going in February than going in the middle of summer in 30 degree heat, so I’ll take that to start the season.”
2020 Squad: 1 Ashton Golding, 2 Jermaine McGillvary, 3 Jake Wardle, 4 Jordan Turner, 5 Darnell McIntosh, 6 Lee Gaskell, Aidan Sezer, 8 James Gavet, 9 Adam O’Brien, 10 Suaia Matagi, 11 Kenny Edwards, 12 Joe Wardle, 13 Michael Lawrence, 14 Matty English, 15 Oliver Wilson, 16 Aaron Murphy, 17 Ukuma Ta’ai, 18 Paul Clough, 19 Akuila Uate, 20 Oliver Roberts, 21 Leroy Cudjoe, 22 Tom Holmes, 23 Oliver Russell, 24 Louis Senior, 25 Innes Senior, 26 Sam Hewitt, 27 Sam Wood, 28 Adam Walne, 29 Jon Luke Kirby, 30 Reiss Butterworth, 31 Chester Butler, 32 Owen Trout, 33 Dominic Young.
INS: Ashton Golding (Leeds Rhinos), Aidan Sezer (Canberra Raiders), James Gavet (Newcastle Knights), Kenny Edwards (Catalans Dragons).
OUTS: Matt Frawley (Canberra Raiders), Kruise Leeming (Leeds Rhinos), Alex Mellor (Leeds Rhinos), Dale Ferguson (Featherstone Rovers), Colton Roche (Bradford Bulls), Sebastine Ikahihifo (Salford Red Devils), Izaac Farrell (Sheffield Eagles),
12 January: Hudderfield Giants 42 Halifax 6
22 January: Wakefield Trinity 4 Huddersfield Giants 16
26 January: Batley Bulldogs Huddersfield Giants
Head Coach: Simon Woolford
Rugby Manager: Andrew Kelly
Assistant Coach: Luke Robinson
Reserve Coach: Steve Fox
Academy Coach: Kim Williams
Head of Performance: Oliver Richardson
Conditioner: Christopher Stewart
Head Physiotherapist: Patrick Robertson
Physiotherapist: William Carlos
Academy Conditioner: Adam McGretton
Equipment Supervisor: Andrew Toulcher
Welfare and Education: Steven Hardisty
Home Kit: Claret and Gold
Away Kit: Purple with red piping