Rick Stone will send his Huddersfield Giants into Middle 8s battle knowing they have the ability to get off to the most impressive of starts.
Huddersfield face arguably the toughest of openers in their seven-game bid to avoid relegation from Super League with Sunday’s trip to Salford.
With the Red Devils having secured 10 wins from their 23 regular Super League XXI fixtures, they would have finished in the top eight had they not been docked six points for salary cap breaches in 2014 and 2015.
In contrast, the bottom-of-the-table Giants recorded just six victories over the same period.
Significantly, however, one of Huddersfield’s rare successes was at Salford on June 17 – a 31-30 triumph just days after Paul Anderson was sacked in the wake of the wretched campaign.
Stone doesn’t expect that result to have a major significance on the events at the AJ Bell Stadium this weekend.
But he does expect to see a far more polished all-round Giants team performance, with several Stone touches having been introduced.
“This is a big opening challenge for us, and one we’re looking forward to,” said Stone, who has already ruled out centre Joe Wardle (knee) making a return on Sunday and is having another look at winger Jermaine McGillvary (quad) and back-row forward Tom Symonds (calf) before making a decision over them.
“And in the scheme of things, we know how important a win would be.
“We know what happens this weekend won’t determine our Middle 8s fate, but there’s no denying getting off to a winning start in a seven-game competition would be good. Four more wins after that would be enough to make sure you finish in the top three and secure Super League for next season.
“The win would also give you some real momentum to take into the games ahead, so we know how important winning over there would be.
“It’s clearly not going to be easy. They’ve got some real quality in their side and I can see the influence of Tim Sheens (Salford’s director of football and former Australia Test coach) in the way they play.
“But if we cut out the errors and tighten up our defence, then we know we’ll put ourselves in a very strong position.
“I’m certainly feeling pretty confident with the way the boys have knuckled down in training and have taken things on board.
“There was a marked improvement between the St Helens game and the Warrington game, and if we maintain that level of improvement I’ll be happy.”
And the new head coach, who has been in Huddersfield for just under a month, will be looking at his bench to play a significant role.
“The quality of your bench is important, particularly in the key games,” added the former Newcastle Knights boss.
“I was really pleased with the impact they made at Warrington the other Saturday (a narrow 34-30 defeat at the Halliwell Jones Stadium), and I’m looking for something similar this weekend.
“Kyle Wood and Eorl Crabtree added a lot as soon as they came on, while young kids Oli Roberts and Nathan Mason were given a bit more gametime and made the most of that chance. I was really encouraged with what those two did.
“In fact, there was a lot that encouraged me about that Warrington performance, and we have to do what ever it takes to make sure we build on that.”