The remarkable turnaround of Huddersfield Giants has not only been one of the most notable stories of 2018, but also one of the most surprising.
It’s less than four months since the Giants were bottom of Super League and sinking without a trace.
But the arrival of Huddersfield’s new coaching team has seen a complete transformation. Once no-hopers, the Giants still hold faint top-four hopes.
Their upturn in fortunes has inevitably been attributed to Simon Woolford, but in the shadows, there has been another man whose input has drastically redefined the Giants as a team.
Speak to any of the Huddersfield players and there’s another name that is often brought up. ‘Bumper’ has been mentioned in the majority of interviews with Huddersfield players since his arrival.
His actual name is Mark Andrews, the Giants’ new head of performance who was brought into the club following Rick Stone’s departure. He quickly got to work with Chris Thorman and Luke Robinson, and together, they started turning things around.
“I came on board and reviewed what we were doing,” he told TotalRL.
“Chris Thorman and Luke Robinson have been sensational. We have a young bunch of guys in the performance team and what they were doing was essentially really good, we just had to tinker with a couple of things and do things differently with how we condition them. They’re going well now.”
There have been two key components to the Giants that have been markedly different; fitness and defence. The signs are evident for everyone.
Ollie Roberts, as one example, lost 15 kilos after Andrews got to grips with the club’s fitness regime.
Defensively, the Giants now go about things as a team. They’re in sync at all times.
“We tinkered with a few things in defence that have had good results, I don’t think it’s any one thing in particular.
“We had a look at what everyone’s roles were. Everyone was doing a little bit of everything. We gave everyone a specific job and focus on what they needed to do.
“I do the ruck, the wrestle and the contact, Luke looks more at the structures. When you have that clear, defined role and you’re on top of it all it makes it easier.
“Fitness-wise we just came down on them a bit too. It’s been nothing too specific, it’s just tweaking things. The foundations were there.”
The arrival of Woolford weeks later further aided Huddersfield’s development. As a quartet, Huddersfield’s coaching team has found a balance that works on the field and off it too.
“Myself, Chris, Simon and Luke, we have a really good relationship. Sometimes we butt heads in the room but we’ve got each other’s back and support one another. Simon isn’t egotistical at all and is open-minded. We’ve got a good little group.
“Simon has only been in the role for three months so obviously we’re going to improve on what we’re doing at the moment. If you look at our performances, we’re not 100% with how we’re going and we think we’ve got a lot of improvement in the team.”
Woolford needn’t worry about Andrews stepping on his toes, too. He has a CV that’s the envy of most. Currently in his second spell at Huddersfield, he’s also worked in rugby union with the Melbourne Rebels, where he worked with Rob McQueen, one of the 15-man code’s top coaches.
Spells in the NRL with St George and Newcastle under the likes of Mick Potter, Nathan Brown and Paul McGregor followed.
Despite that, he’s no interest in becoming a head coach.
“I’m bald as it is, I couldn’t handle the stress and I don’t think my wife could handle me.
“I think you’ve got to be a very unique person to handle everything that comes with being a head coach. I don’t think people appreciate how big of a job it is. It takes a very unique person to do that job.”