Five things we learned from Huddersfield’s season
1 Owner-Chairman Ken Davy remains as committed to his beloved club as ever, despite a string of indifferent seasons. The last time the Giants recorded more wins than losses in a campaign was in 2015, when Paul Anderson’s side came within a match of the Grand Final. Since then Rick Stone and Simon Woolford have come and gone. Prising Ian Watson from Salford is a real statement of intent.
2 Greg Brown’s arrival alongside Watson could be equally telling. The fitness guru was a member of the backroom staff when Huddersfield claimed the League Leaders’ Shield and were a win away from Old Trafford in 2013. That side was noted for high fitness levels, whereas this year, the Giants gained an unwanted reputation for running out of steam during matches.
3 Aidan Sezer is a class act. Woolford might have returned Down Under, but the halfback he persuaded to join the Giants from Canberra remains, which is exciting for the claret and gold faithful and a concern for opposing sides, given his skill and influence. Installed as skipper, the 29-year-old led by example and more than lived up to his billing as the club’s first marquee signing.
4 There’s still life in the old guard. Huddersfield’s trio of loyal homegrown thirtysomethings, Jermaine McGillvary, Michael Lawrence and Leroy Cudjoe, all contributed during the campaign. Winger McGillvary scored seven tries while versatile forward Lawrence was Super League’s top tackler. Centre Cudjoe played his 300th career game and earned a new contract.
5 The Giants’ Academy deserves its reputation as one of the best around. Centre Jake Wardle is a really exciting operator, while fellow products such as prop Matty English, centre or second row Sam Hewitt, halfback Oliver Russell, fullback or winger Louis Senior and centre or second row Sam Wood all continued to look the part. Meanwhile, Innes Senior impressed while on loan to Wakefield.
Like Castleford, Huddersfield started strongly (four wins from five in Super League), but were never the same post-lockdown, when injuries hit and Simon Woolford left after five straight losses. Caretaker head-coach Luke Robinson won his first three, but another five defeats on the spin left the Giants seventh and undermined the former England halfback’s case to be appointed on a permanent basis. He has now reverted to assistant coach.
In their last league game before the season was put on hold, the Giants more than matched St Helens on their own patch, winning 12-10, despite first-half injuries for Lee Gaskell and Ukuma Ta’ai. A Jake Wardle try and Aidan Sezer conversion, along with some stout defensive work, clinched it.
Huddersfield slumped 54-6 in their second meeting with St Helens in what turned out to be Simon Woolford’s penultimate game in charge. An 18-0 defeat by troubled Toronto at the John Smith’s Stadium in the fifth round of the Challenge Cup was also a disappointment.
The fine form of influential Aussie scrum-half Aidan Sezer in his first season since signing from Canberra, where he was edged out by the arrival of George Williams from Wigan, was reflected by speculation about a possible quick return to the NRL as well as his Man of Steel nomination. But the high-quality captain, who boasts a fine kicking game as well as being a great organiser, remains in the UK.
Best young player
There are plenty to choose from in the Giants’ squad, but Jake Wardle gets the nod. The Academy-produced centre, 21, built on a bright 2019 campaign and played 17 times, scoring five tries. Huddersfield tied him down until the end of 2023 with a new contract agreed during lockdown. Capped by England at youth level, he has all the attributes needed to become a full international.
After Sydneysider Aidan Sezer (pictured), recognition should go to Kenny Edwards, the New Zealand-born second row who arrived from Catalans as the Giants’ first close-season signing. The 31-year-old, who has two more years on a three-year contract, showed plenty of guile, energy and enthusiasm over the course of his 17 appearances.
Try of the year
Aidan Sezer put the gloss on a 29-6 derby win over Wakefield in Luke Robinson’s first match as caretaker head-coach in September. He grabbed the fourth of Huddersfield’s five tries by collecting his own clever chip through and then leaving the Trinity defenders trailing.
Quote of the year
“Things haven’t gone well for us since we got back (from lockdown). We have played well, but without any luck. We have lost players in games, and lost a couple of one-pointers.” So said Simon Woolford in early September, when he revealed that he expected to leave the club at the end of the season. In the event, he went after another two games, which were both defeats.
Image of the year
Salford beat the Giants 24-16 at Headingley in early October, condemning Luke Robinson, who played for both clubs, to a first defeat as caretaker head coach. Ian Watson, having agreed a contract extension until 2022 in January of this year, was preparing to lead the Red Devils to Wembley in the Challenge Cup final. Now the two will work together in West Yorkshire.
It actually came after the season ended, when news broke that Ian Watson had left Salford, having been approached by another Super League club. That it was Huddersfield caused quite a reaction, particularly given that he had recently rejected an offer from Hull. “I was attracted to the potential of the club,” he later explained. “Everything about it screams top four – the stadium, the Academy with the kids that can be brought through and the owner who has proven over time that he wants to win.” Can Watson better his remarkable achievements with the Red Devils after crossing the Pennines? It’s going to be very interesting to find out.
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