After claiming the League Leaders Shield in 2013, the first time they had topped the table in 81 years, the pressure was on Huddersfield to produce the goods again as they prepared for 2014.
Even though they didn’t quite manage it, they came close and finished just one point away from reclaiming the prize for finishing top of the league.
However, once again, performances in play-offs let the Giants down and, despite six wins in the last seven Super League games, they finished last season with defeats to Wigan and Catalans once the top-eight contest got underway.
Coach Paul Anderson, who knows what improvements need to be made on last year, has given his charges a very clear message ahead of this season and has already been working them hard to try and ensure that the same problem does not emerge again in nine months’ time.
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“On several occasions last season I accused us of winning games purely on our ability and not necessarily putting the effort in,” Anderson said.
“If I am honest we never really got going last year and never really got a game where we put a whole 80 minutes together. That is going to be the challenge for us this year. We know there were too many occasions where we let ourselves down and we can’t let that happen again.
“At the start of pre-season I said to the players that our ability is constantly at a very high level but our effort has always been lower. If we can put that right then we will be a hell of a team to beat.
“There are no shortcuts to success; it’s all down to hard work.
“We have changed the emphasis on how we train. We are really challenging the guys in pre-season, taking them out of their comfort zone. We covered some distances in the last couple of months that we could only have dreamed of previously.
“It has also helped that we have had 20-odd blokes here from day one, whereas last pre-season we had around 17 players missing, either on international duty or in rehab. That meant we couldn’t do any left to right, over-the-edge defensive work because we just didn’t have enough guys to make up two teams to do it. But we are able to do things like that this year and we will get a lot of benefit from that.
That hard work began at the start of pre-season when the majority of the squad, other than those who had undergone pre-season surgery and Brett Ferres, who was still on England duty, headed off to Catterick Garrison for an intense training camp that tested more than just their rugby skills.
And Anderson hopes that their experiences on that camp can be put to good use when times get tough on the field.
“We were all shown how to make a shelter and the guys thought that was great, but then they were told they had to make a fire because they were sleeping in it and that if they wanted food there was some chicken for them, but they had to turn them from raw meat to food they could eat,” explained Anderson.
“The big thing about the camp was that we had to find a way to get by, keep warm and eat – things we often take for granted. The guys had to be creative, ingenious and work together, and they are skills that can come in useful on a rugby pitch.
“If they have to defend set after set on their own line it can get quite dark. How can we expect players to react to situations like that when we haven’t taken them to points in training where they are thinking it can’t get any worse.
“We have challenged them physically already and with that comes mental challenges.”
As has become the norm with the Giants in recent years, they have once again not made many changes to what has already proved to be a strong squad.
Incoming are former Castleford Tigers duo Craig Huby and Jamie Ellis, while starlet Oliver Roberts moves across West Yorkshire from relegated Bradford Bulls. The Giants’ recruitment was later completed with the arrival of Jack Hughes from Wigan in a season-long loan deal that saw Larne Patrick move in the opposite direction.
And Anderson is delighted with how the squad is now looking.
“Craig could quite easily have stayed at Cas and carried on the way he was, which would have been good as well, but he wanted a fresh challenge,” added Anderson.
“When I was still playing and Craig was starting out as a young player I remember he tried to belt me in a game and I though to myself ‘who is this idiot’. My wife knew him through work around the same time, so I have always kept tabs on him throughout his career. When he became available we made a play for him and managed to convince him to join us.
“He’s a Cas lad, so it will have been a wrench for him to leave them. But we offered him a new challenge and he wanted to take it.
“He will be a big benefit to us. But it’s not all about him making us better, we feel like we can help make him better too.
“You can tell that Jack has been in a good environment for a long time and he is at an age now where he wants to play every week but was finding it difficult to get into the Wigan team. I was looking for a backrower and we were able to offer him game time. Larne also needed a change and he will no doubt see the move as a step up for him. If he comes back to us in 12 months a better player for it then the whole deal has been worthwhile.
“Since I took over I have seen the halves as our weakest point. In 2013 we were very fortunate that our first choice nine, seven, six and one never got injured, so they played the majority of the year. But last year we had to bring Kyle Wood in mid-way through. We suffered injuries to Shaun Lunt throughout the year, Scott Grix was hurt, Danny Brough missed games towards the end of the year and we felt that impact.
“Bringing Jamie in will complement everything else around him and will add another string to our bow in regards to our kicking game. He gives us other options across the team and the competition for places can only make us better.
“Oliver Roberts has raw potential and is a natural footballer. He is a young fella who wants to take his chance. He is only 20 and I have really high hopes for him. He could have played for Ireland this winter but he was very smart and asked for my thoughts on that. After his injury last year I saw him getting more benefit from a full pre-season with us rather than playing for Ireland, and he took that on board. He has since cracked on, done what he has needed to do and he will be better for it.
“Stability is the key for any team, and for us that stability is now bringing experience as well. Guys like Leroy Cudjoe, Jermaine McGillvary, Michael Lawrence, Aaron Murphy, Joe Wardle and Brett Ferres have all been there for a number of years and are key players for us, while they will still be here for the years to come.
“The key is to keep challenging them, and we have certainly been doing that in pre-season.”
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GIANTS 2015 squad: 1 Scott Grix, 2 Jermaine McGillvary, 3 Leroy Cudjoe, 4 Joe Wardle, 5 Aaron Murphy, 6 Danny Brough, 7 Luke Robinson, 8 Eorl Crabtree, 9 Shaun Lunt, 10 Craig Huby, 11 Brett Ferres, 12 Jack Hughes, 13 Chris Bailey, 14 Michael Lawrence, 15 Craig Kopczak, 16 Kyle Wood, 17 Ukuma Ta’ai, 18 Jodie Broughton, 19 Anthony Mullally, 20 Jamie Ellis, 21 Jacob Fairbank, 22 Jake Connor, 23 Josh Johnson, 24 Kruise Leeming, 25 Nathan Mason, 26 Ollie Roberts, 27 Mick Learmonth, 28 Tyler Dickinson, 29 Liam Johnson
INS: Craig Huby (Castleford Tigers – prop), Jack Hughes (Wigan Warriors season loan – second-row), Jamie Ellis (Castleford Tigers – scrum half), Ollie Roberts (Bradford Bulls – second row)
OUTS: Larne Patrick (Wigan Warriors – season loan), Antonio Kaufusi (Canterbury Bulldogs), Ben Blackmore (Featherstone Rovers – mid season). Released – Jason Chan, David Faiumu, Peter Aspinall, Jack Miller
Head coach – Paul Anderson
Assistant coaches – Kieran Purtill and Chris Thorman
Head conditioner – Greg Brown
Rehab conditioner – Matt Green
Head of Medicine – Dave O’Sullivan
Player performance manager – Steve Hardisty
Logistics Manager – Andy Jordan
Head of Youth – Andy Kelly
Bradford Bulls (A) – Sunday January 18, Halifax (A) – Sunday January 25