TOMORROW night the Giants go into the home game against Super League champions Wigan at the top of the table. It couldn’t be better, could it?
No, it couldn’t.
It’s a very good time for us to be playing them, and it has all the makings of being another great game.
Last year, we played Wigan three times and, apart from a 15-minute period in our Magic Weekend meeting at Edinburgh when they dominated us, there was absolutely nothing to choose in the games between us.
We narrowly beat them at their place, while they just got the better of us at the Galpharm earlier in the season.
And I’m sure this latest encounter will be pretty much the same.
But, as I said, this could be a good time for us to be playing a match like this.
We showed in last week’s win against Bradford Bulls that we’re continuing to improve and that’s put us in good heart for tomorrow night.
Everyone contributed against the Bulls and we took the majority of chances that came our way, which obviously wasn’t the case in the narrow win at Harlequins the week before.
As a whole, what was probably the most pleasing aspect of the Bradford performance was that everyone from one to 17 contributed, and that’s what we’ll need to see again when we face Wigan.
When you first arrived at the Giants a couple of years ago, you stated you thought some of your players didn’t believe they could beat the top teams. As you prepare to welcome the champions tomorrow night, do you believe that mentality has changed?
Yes, I do.
I think the players now expect to go into every game and against every opponent expecting to do well.
Obviously, the squad’s changed in the time I’ve been here and over the last two years we’ve been playing finals football.
In 2009, we played in the Challenge Cup final at Wembley and last season we won a couple of play-off games for the first time in the club’s history.
That’s clearly improved the strength of belief among the players themselves, while in the time I’ve been here we’ve also brought in reasonably high-profile players.
As a result, the expectations have been growing and growing.
We obviously don’t believe it’s a God-given right to win every game, but the players do now know that if they work hard for each other and do what they do well, then we’ll be in with a chance of beating anyone.
In years gone by, it was probably the case that even if the Giants did play well and to their full potential it wouldn’t necessarily guarantee success, because the opposition was far stronger.
But now that’s no longer the case, and if Huddersfield Giants hit top form we can go a very, very long way.
We know, for instance, that if we play well tomorrow night, then we can beat Wigan.
You mention the quality of the players you’ve brought in, the latest of which is Australian NRL signing Jamie Simpson, who made his debut against the Bulls. Were you pleased with his contribution?
I thought he did well.
He had a good, solid game, and when you consider it was his first senior game for over five months – he did, however, have a run in the Under 20s the other week – we’ve all got to be very encouraged with what we saw.
For an Australian player, even one with a vast amount of experience, making your debut in the English Super League is always going to be a fairly daunting occasion.
As well as getting used to playing with new teammates, you’ve got to get used to playing a different style of game and in very different conditions.
These are things that simply can’t be underestimated.
But he did very well, and it’s clear that with the more games Jamie plays, the more he’ll contribute to the team.
Our fellow new arrival Dale Ferguson (signed from Wakefield Trinity Wildcats a month ago) has also made a very positive start to his career here, and this bodes well for the future.
To be honest, as a result of their late arrivals, we’re still at a bit of a loss at to what are best 17 actually is at this stage!
As well as giving debuts to Jamie and Dale, you’ve also been ‘blooding’ some of the younger players. Against the Bulls it was Jamie Cording, while you’ve also given Super League runs to Jon Molloy, Keal Carlile and Kyle Wood. Has that always been the plan?
Yes it has.
We’ve been trying to give a lot of the young blokes an opportunity, because a lot of the guys have trained really hard over the last few years and deserve their chance.
A lot of them are now at the stage where we need to see if they can play Super League, and the only way of doing that is to obviously give them a run.
There’s only so much you can learn about a player from the way they train and play in the friendlies.
The acid test is obviously how they can handle things on a Super League field.
And, so far, we’ve been delighted with how all the youngers blokes have fared.
That obviously includes Jamie Cording, who is the latest to get his chance.
He’s had a very good pre-season and his form in the friendlies was really, really good.
Fortunately, he’s now taking that form into a Super League game, when he handled himself extremely well.
He was lucky, in that he came into the game when we had a comfortable lead, which a bloke on debut would always want to do, but he can still be pleased with what he showed.
He did the things we expected him to do, and on this showing he’s definitely got a lot of Super League games in him.
Finally, your captain Kevin Brown was again in outstanding form in the win against Bradford. How pleased have you been with his reaction to being left out of the initial England squad?
Whether Kev was left in or out of the England squad, I always expected him to maintain his excellent form for us.
I’ve always regarded him as comfortably one of the best halves in the competition and he was probably our best player again in the win over Bradford last weekend.
He must have had a hand in at least five or six of the tries we scored last Sunday to underline how important he is to us.
It’s not really up to anyone to tell the selectors or coach who they should pick for England.
But would he be in mine? Yes, he would.
He’s playing well for us once again, and I’m sure that if he continues to produce this level of performance throughout the season there’s no way he can be overlooked at the end of the year.