Perhaps the most surprising transfer of the season came last week when Ryan Brierley left Huddersfield Giants to join Toronto Wolfpack.
In truth, the move didn’t come as a complete shock, particularly Brierley’s end destination. The relationship between Brierley and the Toronto head coach, Paul Rowley, has been well-documented in the past, and with the lofty ambitions of the Wolfpack inevitably set to see them rise through the leagues, the 25-year-old was almost destined to find his way to the Candian club at some point in his career.
The most surprising aspect of the move was Huddersfield’s willingness to let the Scotland international leave the club. The Giants received a fee for the halfback, one that the club’s managing director Richard Thewlis said met their value of the player.
But his departure comes just over a year since they bought Brierley from Leigh in a high-profile move, and most pressingly, it leaves the Giants’ small squad another body down during a pivotal time in their season.
Brierley had dropped down the pecking order at Huddersfield, with Danny Brough and Lee Gaskell preferred in the weeks leading up to his departure. However with Brierley gone it leaves the Giants without an established backup, which is alarming when you consider that both Brough and Gaskell have been unavailable for three of the Giants’ first 11 matches through suspension or injury. Add the fact that Gaskell will miss Thursday’s clash against Leeds with a suspected hamstring problem, that means that they will have been unavailable for a third of the club’s opening 12 games.
Thewlis said in a statement issued regarding Brierley’s departure that one positive was “a likelihood of further opportunities for our younger players” with teenage halfback Izaac Farrell mentioned. However, despite Gaskell’s absence, Farrell has still been not been picked for Thursday’s match with Leeds, which hints that Rick Stone does not have faith in him making the step up at this point in his career.
Now Stone is left with the prospect of playing against the joint leaders of Super League with one recognised halfback and a team that has not won a match in nine attempts. And if Gaskell’s suspected injury is similar to the hamstring problem that saw him miss extensive chunks of last season while with Bradford, it leaves Huddersfield in a very difficult predicament.
Stone himself was coy on Brierley’s exit, although he told League Express that they had to plan around players who “want to be at the club.”
If Brierley did want to leave, then the club’s decision to sell him is understandable, even if the timing isn’t ideal.
In defence of the club, it never appeared that Brierley suited Stone’s style of play.
Brierley is a first-class support player and equally good as a running halfback. But under Stone’s style of play, a more conservative approach is required, and that does not suit his strengths and as a result, his performances didn’t hit the heights some had predicted.
The proof is in the stats. Last year the Giants made less clean breaks than any other side in Super League and were one of the lowest in terms of offloads. This year they remain one of the bottom ranked sides in terms of clean breaks, and although the number of offloads has increased, they are predominantly through the likes of Sebastine Ikahihifo and Ukuma Ta’ai keeping the ball alive, rather than putting someone through a gap.
That isn’t to suggest Stone’s style of play should be criticised. But he has his own philosophy, and Brierley’s talents simply did not compliment the way he wants his side to play.
Given that, the opportunity to gain some money and free up his salary presented itself to the club, the decision to sever ties has some reasoning, but it leaves the Giants with another problem to solve, and any recruitment manager will tell you how difficult it is to land a halfback, while Brierley gets a chance to be Toronto’s marquee player.
It’s a shame that the move never worked out for both parties. At the time it appeared that Huddersfield had landed a coup in Brierley, and for the player himself it was a deserved chance at Super League after dominating the Championship for years. Now both the player and the club have new challenges to face, and it will be intriguing to see how it pans out.