Watson’s mission to turn the Giants into winners
League Express previews what could be an exciting season for Huddersfield Giants
The close-season has seen comings and goings on a far larger scale than normal at the John Smith’s Stadium, with new coach Ian Watson bringing a new broom with him and shaping his 2021 squad in his own image.
Twelve players are heading out of the Giants, but three of them – Sam Hewitt, Suaia Matagi and Innes Senior – are leaving on season-long loans to Halifax, Castleford and Wakefield respectively.
Then there are six players – Reiss Butterworth, Paul Clough, Tom Holmes, Aaron Murphy, Ukuma Ta’ai and Adam Walne – heading into the Championship or League 1 with Dewsbury, Widnes, Featherstone, Bradford, Newcastle and Barrow respectively.
Only one of the Giants’ 2020 squad – Jordan Turner – is moving permanently to another Super League club, Castleford Tigers, alongside Matagi.
Of the two remaining players, veteran Aussie winger Aquila Uate announced his retirement last year after an injury-disrupted two seasons with the Giants.
But ironically perhaps the biggest loss will be a teenager – Dominic Young – who has left the Giants after playing only two Super League games in 2019 and 2020 to join the NRL’s Newcastle Knights, for whom he scored two tries in pre-season games.
The swing door at the John Smith’s Stadium has been revolving not just with departing players, but also with those coming to join the Giants under their new coach Ian Watson.
Watson has swooped to sign two forwards who were with him at Salford Red Devils.
Luke Yates is just 26 years old and has spent the last two seasons at London Broncos and Salford respectively, making 45 Super League appearances in total. Yates is a tackling machine and will stiffen up the Giants’ defence significantly. Prior to joining London he spent two seasons in the NRL with Newcastle Knights.
Josh Jones is a year older, having made his Super League debut with St Helens in 2012, spending four seasons there before then spending four seasons with Salford, before a solitary season with Hull FC in 2020, which was severely disrupted when he suffered from a Covid infection.
Yates and Jones have both been given squad numbers in the starting lineup, with 8 and 13 respectively, while the same applies to Ricky Leutele, who is possibly the club’s most exciting signing in terms of attacking play and will wear the number 4 shirt.
Leutele spent nine seasons in the NRL with Cronulla from 2010 before joining Toronto Wolfpack and, when the Wolfpack folded, going back to Australia to join Melbourne Storm, although only playing one game for them.
Also joining the club from Australia is Jack Cogger, who comes from the Canterbury Bulldogs. Cogger, 23, comes with experience of 42 NRL games with the Knights and Bulldogs.
The Giants have added to their squad depth by signing centre Jack Ashworth, 25, from St Helens, hooker James Cunningham, 26, from Toronto and forward Joe Greenwood, 27, from Wigan.
They have also signed two younger players in Olly Ashall-Bott, 23, from Widnes Vikings, and teenage hooker George Roby from Warrington Wolves.
But ultimately the most important new arrival at the club is new coach Ian Watson, who will carry the Giants’ hopes for the 2021 season on his shoulders.
The Giants suffered a blow when fullback Ashton Golding suffered a dislocated shoulder in training in January, which is likely to keep him out until late May.
But the club moved quickly to sign Olly Ashall-Bott as cover for fullback, while Lee Gaskell and Darnell McIntosh have also played in that position in recent seasons.
Gaskell and Aidan Sezer are the Giants’ first-choice halfbacks, with Sezer having made a massive impression in his first season in Super League last year, but Jack Cogger and Olly Russell will both be seeking opportunities in the halfback positions, ensuring that the first-choice players in those positions are kept on their toes.
Hooker Adam O’Brien suffered a serious neck injury in 2020, which at one time appeared to threaten his career. But fortunately he has fully recovered and again is given the squad number 9 shirt.
But he will be challenged in that position by new signing James Cunningham, who, at the age of 26, has played 54 Super League games so far with Hull FC, London Broncos and Toronto Wolfpack. Cunningham is a talented player who still has the potential to be one of the best in Super League in his position. Third in line for the hooking spot is likely to be youngster George Roby, who wasn’t listed when the Giants revealed their squad numbers, but who will be eager to make his Super League debut as the season unfolds.
The Giants certainly don’t look short of squad depth in the forwards, with Luke Yates, Michael Lawrence, Kenny Edwards, Joe Wardle and Josh Jones being awarded the starting shirts.
They are supported by considerable front row depth, with Matty English, Joe Greenwood, Oliver Wilson and James Gavet all established Super League players who are likely to start the season on the bench. All of them are capable of occupying a starting spot, while young Irishman Ronan Michael will also be hoping to force his way into the matchday squad as a prop forward, after having made his debut off the bench against Wigan in Round 20 of the 2020 season.
Aussie veteran Chris McQueen, who joined the Giants last season and played nine Super League games, provides depth in the back row, alongside rookie Owen Trout.
Then there is former St Helens backrower Jack Ashworth, who is certain to mount a strong challenge for a regular starting spot. At the age of 25, Ashworth made 43 Super League appearances for St Helens since his debut in 2015 without ever being able to become a regular fixture in the matchday squad.
Sam Hewitt played eight Super League games for the Giants in 2020, impressing many observers, although he will spend time with Halifax Panthers in 2021, while Jon-Luke Kirby is another promising young forward who is currently recovering from an ACL injury.
Giants supporters are entitled to feel optimistic about their prospects this season when they contemplate a centre partnership of Jake Wardle and Ricky Leutele, with Jermaine McGillvary and Darnell McIntosh playing outside them.
Veteran former Giants captain Leroy Cudjoe is still a contender for a starting spot at the age of 32. The ultimate one-club man, he will be starting 14th season as a Huddersfield player in 2021 and he appears to have recovered well from a knee injury that at one time threatened his career.
Louis Senior, who is still only 20, will also challenge for a place on the wing or perhaps even in the centre, while Sam Wood is another centre still in the early stages of his career who has played 33 Super League games for the Giants.
Then there is Chester Butler, who the Giants signed from Halifax last year, and who has suffered numerous injuries, but when fit he will be itching to claim a centre spot.
The Giants’ squad has plenty of young players in their mid-twenties but relatively few aged 21 or under.
Oliver Wilson is a 21-year old prop forward who celebrates his 22nd birthday next Monday and he has already made 17 Super League appearances, mainly off the bench and he will be looking to move up the rankings in the Giants’ squad this season.
Louis Senior is 20 years old and has made 23 first-team appearances, all of them in the starting lineup, since his debut in 2018.
Owen Trout is another 21-year-old who joined the Giants from Leeds Rhinos last season and made six appearance off the bench.
Sam Hewitt is also 21 but the backrower will be spending time with Halifax Panthers in 2021, while Ronan Michael will not celebrate his 21st birthday until July but will be wanting to make an impression this season to gain selection for his native Ireland in this year’s World Cup.
Whether teenage hooker George Roby will make his debut for the Giants this year remains to be seen, but after joining from Warrington he is heading the next generation of young Academy players who the Giants will have high hopes for.
A REALISTIC AIM FOR 2021
The Giants won the League Leaders’ Shield in 2013, but their supporters have waited patiently since then for more trophies to come to the John Smith’s Stadium and with the arrival of new coach Ian Watson, most of them will believe that now is the time.
They should certainly qualify for the Super League play-offs, but whether they could take the big prize is a moot point.
A lot will be revealed in their opening game of the season against Hull FC.
However, depending on how the draw unfolds, they may stand a better chance of lifting the Challenge Cup this season, and it’s easy to imagine that their captain Aidan Sezer would shine on that particular stage.
2021 Squad: 1 Ashton Golding, 2 Jermaine McGillvary, 3 Jake Wardle, 4 Ricky Leutele, 5 Darnell McIntosh, 6 Lee Gaskell, 7 Aidan Sezer, 8 Luke Yates, 9 Adam O’Brien, 10 Michael Lawrence, 11 Kenny Edwards, 12 Joe Wardle, 13 Josh Jones, 14 Matty English, 15 Joe Greenwood, 16 Jack Cogger, 17 Chris McQueen, 18 Jack Ashworth, 19 James Cunningham, 20 Olly Wilson, 21 Leroy Cudjoe, 22 James Gavet, 23 Olly Russell, 24 Louis Senior, 25 Owen Trout, 26 Jon-Luke Kirby, 27 Sam Wood, 28 Sam Hewitt, 29 Ronan Michael, 30 Chester Butler, 31 Olly Ashall-Bott
Ins: Olly Ashall-Bott (Widnes Vikings), Jack Ashworth (St Helens), Jack Cogger (Canterbury Bulldogs), James Cunningham (Toronto Wolfpack), Joe Greenwood (Wigan Warriors), Josh Jones (Hull FC), Ricky Leutele (Melbourne Storm), George Roby (Warrington Wolves), Luke Yates (Salford Red Devils)
Outs: Reiss Butterworth (Dewsbury Rams), Paul Clough (Widnes Vikings), Sam Hewitt (Halifax Panthers – one-year loan), Tom Holmes (Featherstone Rovers), Suaia Matagi (Castleford Tigers – one-year loan), Aaron Murphy (Bradford Bulls), Innes Senior (Wakefield Trinity – one-year loan), Ukuma Ta’ai (Newcastle Thunder), Jordan Turner (Castleford Tigers), Aquila Uate (Retired), Adam Walne (Barrow Raiders), Dominic Young (Newcastle Knights).
Head Coach: Ian Watson
Assistant Coach: Luke Robinson
Rugby Manager and Head of Youth: Andy Kelly
Head Conditioner: Greg Brown
Rehabilitation Conditioner: Carl Foulstone
Reserve Team Head Coach: Steve Fox
Academy Head Coach: Kim Williams
Head of Medical: Patrick Robertson
Head Physiotherapist: Will Carlos
First Team Therapist: Peter Connell
Lead Club Doctor: Dr Ian Sampson
Club Doctor: Dr Imad Nasir
Equipment Supervisor: Andy Toulcher
Performance Analyst: Lewis Chapman
Club Welfare, Safeguarding & Education Manager: Steve Hardisty
Chairman: Ken Davy
Managing Director: Richard Thewlis
Commercial Director: Andrew Watson
Financial Controller: Angela Horner
Accounts and Lottery Assistant: Dawn Woodhead
Club Ambassador: Eorl Crabtree
Commercial Manager: Brian Blacker
Operations Manager: Tim Burton
Marketing & Media Assistant: Conor Murphy
Ticket Office Manager: Rachel Chambers
Lottery Sales Manager: Lindsey Richardson
Shop Supervisor: Joanne Bracken
Home shirt: Claret upper parts transitioning to gold below
Away shirt: Dark blue shirts with green sleeves
Betfred odds to win the Grand Final: 12/1
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