Of all the clubs in Super League, Huddersfield are probably the most excited about recruitment for 2019.
The last few years have been tough for the Giants, both on and off the field. On it, they have scratched and clawed at the bottom of the league. Off it, they’ve had their hands tied behind their back with their salary cap predominantly spent up by existing players on long-term deals.
A poor start to 2016 saw the Giants recruit mid-season. Ryan Brierley, Tom Symonds and Gene Ormsby were all brought in on good salaries and long-term contracts. Between them, they managed 29 appearances for the club while taking up a fair chunk of their salary cap.
That season saw the Giants fighting for survival, and even though they escaped relegation, it put their recruitment on the back foot. Lee Gaskell had already been signed before Stone arrived, leaving him restricted in what he could spend anyway.
The only way the Giants could recruit under Rick Stone was by replacing players. They ultimately did that, and players were brought in mid-season. This again, however, left them doing little recruitment in the off-season.
But this year promises to be different.
With a lot of senior players off-contract and quota players potentially leaving too, the Giants finally have some much-wanted cap space to play with.
They invested time at the start of the year retaining their existing talent to long-term deals. The likes of Oliver Roberts and Matty English, both of whom will most likely be the cornerstone of the club in years to come, are among those to sign long-term deals. More senior players, such as Danny Brough, have signed shorter deals. Their proactivity in retention was wise. With the market now open, the Giants know exactly how far their budget can stretch.
Now, the challenge is for Simon Woolford to identify where they need to strengthen.
Upon his arrival, he hinted that outside backs were one area of improvement and the expected arrival of Akuila Uate suggests the Giants aren’t messing around in getting things done.
Beyond that, their halfback department looks set to be freshened up. It’s not a surprise, either. Despite having several options in that department, all of Huddersfield’s various halves have been predominantly utilised elsewhere. Jordan Rankin, Lee Gaskell and Jordan Turner have all tried their hand as Brough’s partner, but all have been used in the backline.
With Brough’s career entering its final years, the Giants need both a short and long-term solution. Jackson Hastings appears to be the man Woolford would like to take on that role, but the Manly halfback’s move to the John Smith’s Stadium is far from a done deal. Tom Holmes is another player the Giants have targeted, but they face competition from other clubs.
Beyond that, the Giants have kept their cards close to their chest, although any further business is likely to hinder on outgoings.
Crucially, the three main players yet to sign new deals are all overseas players. Jake Mamo, Ryan Hinchcliffe and Shannon Wakeman are all off-contract at the end of the season, and their futures look unclear.
Reading between the lines, the departures of Mamo and Wakeman are to be expected. Both Rick Stone signings, Mamo is being heavily linked with a move away from the club while Wakeman has only played twice this season and is currently on loan to Dewsbury. While both are non-fed players, and therefore don’t take up a full quota position each, their departures would free up both cap and quota space for Woolford to work with, a temptation that may be hard to resist as he tries to use his own contacts down under to bring in players that fit his style. The fact that both Uate and Hastings are being chased suggests a quota spot is set to become available in their roster. Symonds’ release earlier this year has freed up one spot, but it appears more could follow.
Hinchcliffe’s future appears to hang more in the balance. One of Huddersfield’s most dependable performers, he has expressed a wish to stay at the club, which may prove too good to turn down.
Mamo’s departure would almost certainly see Woolford look to add more depth to his backline, with Gene Ormsby and Jared Simpson already departed from the beginning of the year.
Back-row is another potential focus, with Symonds’ place in the squad never filled.
Regardless of that though, the Giants are set for a busy recruitment drive, and that will be met by excitement from the Giants fans keen for the shackles to be lifted on their transfer dealings.
Fan’s view: @GiantsFanzine
Talking about the Giants recruitment ambitions is a little tricky at the moment. We have some big names out of contract who may or may not re-sign, we haven’t seen anything close to our best 17 this year so it’s hard to nail down the weak spots, and we’ve got a relatively unknown new coach, so it’s hard to say what style of rugby we’ll be playing.
With Brough almost certainly on a reduced deal, Symonds gone and Mamo and Hinchcliffe potentially out of contract, the club will – for the first time in a while – have some money to play with. The Brough era is coming to an end and I don’t see the Rankin/Gaskell pairing as a long-term solution, so I’d also like to see us invest in a creative halfback who can take charge of a game.
With questions over Mamo’s future, we may also find ourselves looking for a new fullback. Many point to Jake as the main out-of-contract player for us this year, but Ryan Hinchcliffe has been an absolute rock in defence for us, and if we fail to retain his services in 2019, we’ll need to account for that, although Clough and Lawrence are both great tacklers who can play 13, so I’m not sure we necessarily need a new forward.
Should Mamo leave, and we make the right signing in the halves, then we can put some money into a good defensive fullback to tighten up some of the weak points on our goal line.