Giants’ season of under-performing
In our preview of Huddersfield’s 2021 season in March, we pointed out that the Giants’ last trophy came when they 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,” we wrote.
“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.
“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.”
Unfortunately for the Giants’ fans, our predictions were way off the mark.
Huddersfield finished in ninth position, they were convincingly beaten by Hull in the opening game of the season and they never looked like they were going to reach the play-offs, while Sezer’s season fizzled out when he clearly didn’t seem to be wanted by the club’s new coach.
Five things we learned from Huddersfield’s season
1 A new coach isn’t a panacea for past failures. Ian Watson may have enjoyed some success with few resources at Salford Red Devils, but he couldn’t immediately translate that success across the Pennines at the John Smith’s Stadium.
2 The fans can quickly become disillusioned with a new coach when results don’t go his way. Watson continually talked about “getting the process right” as defeats mounted, but what the Giants’ fans wanted were wins and being able to challenge the big guns in Super League.
3 New coaches see things differently from their predecessors. In the 2020 season, the Giants looked as though they had a superb halfback pairing in Aidan Sezer and Lee Gaskell. But under Watson both those players were shown the door and will be with Leeds Rhinos and Wakefield Trinity respectively next year, while Jack Cogger and Oliver Russell took their place in 2021. And in 2022, the Giants will see the arrival of Tui Lolohea from Salford Red Devils and Theo Fages from St Helens.
4 The Giants were one of the most inconsistent teams in Super League, having some close battles against teams in the higher reaches of the league table, but then falling back down to earth with defeats against teams they would have expected to be able to beat. Although they defeated Leigh Centurions three times, two defeats against each of Salford Red Devils and Wakefield Trinity ensured that they would finish nearer the bottom of the table than the top.
5 Despite their shortcomings, the Giants have a recent record of producing some quality young players, with the best and most recent example being Will Pryce, who made his debut as recently as July 1 against Catalans Dragons. By the end of the season, he was starring for the England Knights against Jamaica.
The Giants ended in ninth place, with nine wins out of 24 games, giving them a winning percentage of 37.5, scoring 330 points and conceding 414 for an average scoreline of 14-17.
Monday, May 17 was a notable date in 2021, as it was the first time crowds had been allowed in stadiums for more than a year. The Giants travelled to Warrington and in front of an attendance limited to 4,000, they shocked the Wolves to gain only their second win of the season with a 20-26 victory.
Lee Gaskell’s two converted tries and another from Jermaine McGillvary saw the Giants storm into a 20-point lead at half-time, silencing the home crowd, before they had to hold off a second-half Warrington fightback which pulled them to within two points of the Giants before Kenny Edwards’ try gave them the daylight they needed to hold on for victory.
On May 30, the Giants visited the Mobile Rocket Stadium after three successive wins but crashed to a 38-12 defeat against Wakefield Trinity, who secured only their second victory of the season. The Giants sorely missed the creativity of injured Lee Gaskell and failed to breach a superbly-drilled Trinity defence until grabbing two consolation tries in the last three minutes.
It was the start of a six-match losing run for Huddersfield which would effectively kill off their season.
Luke Yates joined the Giants from Salford in the closed-season and it was easy to see why Ian Watson recruited him. Yates made 737 tackles, the fourth-highest figure in Super League, and 40 tackle busts, while carrying the ball 243 times and making 2,028 metres for an average of 8.35 metres per carry.
Best young player
Will Pryce was only 18 years old when he was handed his Giants’ debut in July, but he made an immediate impression, scoring two tries and kicking 32 goals in 13 matches. He even looks a good outside bet to play for England in next year’s World Cup.
Best overseas player
Aussie Luke Yates was the best player overall and, apart from him, Samoa international centre Ricky Leutele had a solid season.
Try of the year
Will Pryce was a revelation for the Giants and, in their last game of the season, he demonstrated why, with a brilliant dash through the Leigh Centurions defence to touch down for a scorching try.
Quote of the year
“The system used for squads is fully automated and when a Covid case is reported it automatically voids off the persons concerned,” said Giants managing director Richard Thewlis after his side had named a 13-man squad to take on Hull in June, given the number of players affected by the virus as well as international call-ups.
“That then has a timeline to follow before it clears the allotted time and therefore the player is then made available on the system and a simple button click adds them to our numbers. The reality is that this will occur over the next 36 to 48 hours and we will of course publicise more names ahead of the game.
“I accept it looks a little strange to the outside world but it’s simply how things work and in no way is it anyone’s fault or anyone trying to deceive our opponents who are fully aware of how the system works and the issues we have and how they will be rectified to ensure we are okay to play on Friday.
“What we cannot do though is simply throw names in there so things look okay and replace or swap them later as this would cause us to lose substitutions ahead of the game under the regulations. Therefore for now, it’s just 13 and we’ll add more in as things clear.”
The Giants eventually named a 20-man squad for the trip.
Image of the year
Huddersfield coach Ian Watson looking increasingly frustrated in successive TV interviews as his new team’s season stubbornly refused to take off.
The Giants’ defeat at Wakefield on May 30 (see above) was a comprehensive one, breaking a winning sequence of three games and starting a losing streak of six. It was the precursor to Huddersfield’s season fizzling out ignominiously.
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