As part of a new, regular feature, we map out the key things every club must do in the off-season to raise their chances of success in 2017. Our latest club in focus is Huddersfield Giants.
Make Zak Hardaker their number one priority
With Scott Grix and Jake Connor leaving, it’s fairly obvious that the Giants need a fullback.
Luckily for them, there is a pretty decent one still available on the transfer market. It was reported in this week’s League Express (see it here) that Huddersfield are interested in a move for Zak Hardaker – and if those reports are correct, they make perfect sense.
Hardaker would arguably be a big improvement on what Huddersfield had last year: and after a good stint in the NRL with Penrith, he will return to Super League in confident spirits. If the Giants can get the deal over the line, it will be a significant coup.
Find a way for Rick Stone to move Ryan Hinchcliffe to loose-forward
“I have to admit I am a lot more comfortable playing at loose-forward.”
That was what Ryan Hinchcliffe said about a difficult first season in Super League back in August: and with a player of Hinchcliffe’s quality in the ranks, Rick Stone has to find a way to get him where he prefers playing.
Whether that involves signing a new hooker, bringing one up from the Academy or any viable solution, the Giants have to get Hinchcliffe at the forefront of a rejuvenated, recharged pack in 2017. Doing so could transform their fortunes dramatically.
Decide on a settled half-back pairing in pre-season
With three quality half-backs in Jamie Ellis, Danny Brough and Ryan Brierley, finding a way to squeeze them all in last year felt like a real dilemma for both Paul Anderson and Rick Stone. At times, Brierley went to fullback; at others, one of them missed out.
So finding the best pairing in pre-season is crucial, to ensure that Huddersfield start the new season with fluidity and flair from the off. Brough and Brierley both being called into the Scotland squad, incidentally, may hand them an early advantage in the mind of Stone.
Exploit the success of Huddersfield Town
The team they share a stadium with, Huddersfield Town, have really captured the imagination of the West Yorkshire town since the start of the football season in August. With a new era being billed under coach David Wagner from the very start, the Terriers find themselves, amazingly, in the race for the Premier League next season.
The Giants have started their own promising marketing campaign as they gear up for their first full season under Rick Stone, but continuing to emulate the success of Town will only do good things for the Giants. Moving fixtures to Friday and sticking with a set day may also be the start of something good for the club.
Place a strong emphasis on trusting youth in 2017
If there was one overriding positive from a difficult season for the Giants in 2016, it was the emergence of some real high-class youth.
Oliver Roberts didn’t play once in 2015 for the club; this season, he was a near ever-present. Nathan Mason emerged as a Super League prop, and Tyler Dickinson is another who looks to have a big future.
Keeping the current crop of Giants youngsters involved will be vital for both the club’s present, as well as the future.