LEAGUE EXPRESS previews a vital season for Huddersfield Giants and their coach Ian Watson.
When he was appointed last year, Giants coach Ian Watson began to reorganise his squad, with twelve players heading out of the John Smith’s Stadium, either permanently or on loan.
During the current close season, that process has continued, with seven more players who were members of the first-team squad in 2021 now having departed the club.
Before Watson’s arrival, most observers would have probably imagined that Lee Gaskell and Aidan Sezer would be the Giants’ halfback partners for some time to come, but both fell out of favour with Watson, making just eleven and eight appearances respectively last season, and now they have both headed elsewhere – Gaskell to Wakefield Trinity and Sezer to Leeds Rhinos.
Other members of the back division who have departed include winger or fullback Darnell McIntosh who has moved to Hull FC after five seasons as a Giant, while dependable squad member Sam Wood, who made his debut in 2016 but never established himself as a regular starting player, will head to the other side of Hull to join Hull Kingston Rovers.
In the pack, the Giants will lose two hookers, with James Cunningham, who only joined the Giants last year, heading to Toulouse, while Nathan Peats, who came on loan from Leigh, will head to France to join Albi in the Elite League. Kenny Edwards, who had two seasons with the Giants after two seasons with Catalans Dragons, will go to Castleford on a season-long loan and Joe Wardle, who only played once for the Giants in 2021, will join Leigh Centurions. And Irishman Ronan Michael will head to York City Knights on another season-long loan.
There are some significant signings at the John Smith’s Stadium for the 2022 season, with prop forward Chris Hill, who arrives from Warrington Wolves, perhaps being the biggest name.
Hill, a former Warrington captain, who has signed a two-year contract, will certainly bring leadership qualities to the Giants, with coach Ian Watson gambling that, at the age of 34, Hill still has the ability that gained him international honours with the Wolves.
Watson will also operate this season with a brand-new halfback partnership, having signed Tui Lolohea from Salford, who Watson snapped up from Leeds when he was the Red Devils’ coach in 2020, and the experienced French international Theo Fages, who comes to Huddersfield from St Helens after six seasons with the Champions, although he is still only 27 years old.
The only NRL player recruited by the Giants for 2022 is Danny Levi, who joins from Brisbane Broncos after spending seven seasons in the NRL with Newcastle, Manly and Brisbane and he comes to the Giants after having played 112 NRL games, while just approaching his prime at the age of 26.
And the Giants are also in the unusual position of welcoming back four of their former players, having signed packmen Nathan Mason from Leigh, and bringing back Ollie Roberts and Sebastine Ikahihifo from their loan spells at Salford Red Devils, while they are also recalling Innes Senior from his loan at Wakefield Trinity.
The Giants are the only club in Super League who have changed all their squad numbers for their entire spine, with Will Pryce taking the number 1 shirt from Ash Golding, Tui Lolohea and Theo Fages taking numbers 6 and 7 from the departing Lee Gaskell and Aidan Sezer and their fellow newcomer Danny Levi taking the number 9 shirt from Adam O’Brien, who has fallen in the pecking order to squad number 19.
The biggest surprise was the award of the number 1 shirt to Pryce, the teenager who enjoyed such an impressive debut season in 2012, debuting against the Catalans on 1st July and going on to make 13 first-team appearances at stand-off. Coach Ian Watson has made it plain that he sees Pryce as a starting fullback, but it would be surprising if he didn’t also make some appearances at stand-off after his excellent performances in that position last year.
Golding will wear shirt number 5 but is still likely to be seen frequently in the fullback position, while the Giants also have the option of playing Olly Ashall-Bott in that position, after he made nine first-team appearances last season.
The two backups for the halfback spots will be Australian Jack Cogger, who joined the Giants in 2021, and home-produced Oliver Russell, who had 18 and 14 games respectively for the side last season.
At hooker, Levi is certain to be challenged by O’Brien, while teenager George Roby will be third in line, hoping for opportunities after spending some time on loan at North Wales Crusaders last season.
The Giants have changed three of their starting pack members for the 2022 season, with Joe Wardle and Kenny Edwards departing, while newcomers Chris Hill and Danny Levi take squad numbers 8 and 9, and Chris McQueen moves up from squad number 17 to squad number 12.
And coach Ian Watson will have plenty of backup for his forward pack, with established squad members Matty English, Joe Greenwood, Owen Trout, Sebastine Ikahihifo, Oliver Wilson, Ollie Roberts, Jack Ashworth, Sam Hewitt and Nathan Mason battling for bench spots.
Further down the squad list, two younger players in Jon Luke Kirby and Robson Stevens, both of whom have had loan spells away from the John Smith’s Stadium in 2021, will be hoping that this could be their breakthrough year.
The Giants appear to have forwards to spare in 2022 and it would be surprising if at least some members of their squad were not loaned out to other clubs for parts of the forthcoming season.
Compared to the spine and the forward pack, there is less change in the Giants’ threequarter line in 2022, with Jermaine McGillvary, Jake Wardle and Ricky Leutele all retaining their squad numbers, while Ash Golding replaces the departed Darnell McIntosh in the number 5 shirt.
Veteran former Giants captain Leroy Cudjoe, who will again wear squad number 21, is still a contender for a starting spot at the age of 33. He will be starting his 15th season as a Huddersfield player in 2022 after making 20 starting appearances in 2021. He appears to have fully recovered from a knee injury that at one time threatened his career.
The Senior twins, who are still only 21, are now both reunited, with Innes having returned from his loan spell with Wakefield. They will also challenge for places on the wing or perhaps even in the centre.
Other backup centres include former Halifax centre Chester Butler, who the Giants signed from Halifax in 2020, and whose Giants career hasn’t got started because of his numerous injuries.
The Giants have included several young teenage stars in their squad list for 2022, headed by Will Pryce, who only turned 19 in December, but who is clearly destined for stardom, if his performances in 2021 can be replicated this season.
Of the other squad members aged under 21, Academy international Robson Stevens played two games off the bench in 2021 and he will be hoping for more action this season in the front row.
Fenton Rogers and George Roby are both aged 19 and last season they gained experience with Oldham and North Wales Crusaders at prop and hooker respectively, while another teenager Aidan McGowan gained experience at fullback with York City Knights, while young hooker Kieran Rush will perhaps expect to have some time on loan elsewhere while also being young enough to play Academy rugby.
A REALISTIC AIM FOR 2022
To say that 2021 was a disappointing season for Huddersfield Giants would probably be an understatement.
This year it’s fair to say that no one at the John Smith’s Stadium, including their coach Ian Watson, will be satisfied with anything less than a play-off spot at the end of the season.
Squad numbers: 1 Will Pryce, 2 Jermaine McGillvary, 3 Jake Wardle, 4 Ricky Leutele, 5 Ashton Golding, 6 Tui Lolohea, 7 Theo Fages, 8 Chris Hill, 9 Danny Levi, 10 Michael Lawrence, 11 Josh Jones, 12 Chris McQueen, 13 Luke Yates, 14 Matty English, 15 Joe Greenwood, 16 Jack Cogger, 17 Owen Trout, 18 Sebastine Ikahihifo, 19 Adam O’Brien, 20 Oliver Wilson 21 Leroy Cudjoe, 22 Louis Senior, 23 Olly Russell, 24 Ollie Roberts, 25 Innes Senior, 26 Nathan Mason, 27 Jack Ashworth, 28 Robson Stevens, 29 Sam Hewitt, 30 Jon Luke Kirby, 31 Olly Ashall-Bott, 32 Fenton Rogers, 33 Aidan McGowan, 34, Kieran Rush, 35 George Roby, 36 Chester Butler
Ins: Chris Hill (Warrington Wolves), Tui Lolohea (Salford Red Devils), Theo Fages (St Helens), Nathan Mason (Leigh Centurions), Danny Levi (Brisbane Broncos), Sebastine Ikahihifo (Salford Red Devils – loanee return), Ollie Roberts (Salford Red Devils – loanee return), Innes Senior (Wakefield Trinity – loanee return)
Outs: Aidan Sezer (Leeds Rhinos), Sam Wood (Hull Kingston Rovers), Lee Gaskell (Wakefield Trinity), Kenny Edwards (Castleford Tigers, loan), Darnell McIntosh (Hull FC), James Cunningham (Toulouse Olympique), Joe Wardle (Leigh Centurions), Ronan Michael (York City Knights, loan), Jacob Beer (Hunslet), Nathan Peats (Albi).
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: Tom Tsang
Academy Conditioner: Adam McGretton
Head of Medical: Patrick Robertson
Head Physiotherapist: Rachel O’Toole
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: To be appointed
Chairman: Keith Hellawell
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
Commercial Administrator: Kristen Jackson
Operations Manager: Tim Burton
Marketing & Media Assistant: Conor Murphy
Marketing and Media Assistant: Cameron Deacon
Ticket Office Manager: Rachel Chambers
Lottery Sales Manager: Lindsey Richardson
Home shirt: Claret upper parts transitioning to gold below
Away shirt: Dark blue shirts with green sleeves
Betfred odds to win the Grand Final: 25/1
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