It's a night Jake Connor will never forget.

In just his second Super League appearance, the 18-year-old full-back was charged with the task of being the last line of defence in Huddersfield Giants’ biggest game of the season at Warrington Wolves.

At stake was a place in the Super League Grand Final at Old Trafford, and Connor knew the pressure was on.

The Siddal junior product had underlined his star potential by scoring a superb individual try in the heavy defeat at Bradford Bulls on the last day of the regular Super League XVIII season when the Giants had already collected the League Leaders’ Shield. Huddersfield effectively fielded a second strong that day.

But this was a completely different matter.

Connor had shown against the Bulls, however, that he had what it took to compete at the highest level.

So when regular full-back Scott Grix failed a fitness test on a groin strain on the eve of the Qualifying Semi-Final trip to Warrington, the Giants’ coaching staff had no hesitation in putting him in at the deepest of play-off ends.

 

Head coach Paul Anderson had shown complete faith in him. “If his willingness to work matches his natural potential, then we have a very big talent on our hands,” is his boss’s assessment of him.

And when it came to the crunch, Connor showed he was more than up to the task, with a well-taken first-half try in the heartbreaking 30-22 defeat at the Halliwell Jones Stadium clearly underlining that fact.

The in-form Grix may start 2014 as the first-choice Giants’ No1, but it’s now crystal clear Connor will be breathing down his neck. The unfortunate injury to Grix could be just what Connor needed to get his break.

“It’s a shame it had to come down to an injury to Grixy for me to get my chance in a really important game,” said Connor, who is now looking forward to playing for England Youth in next month’s two-Test series against Wales.

“But I always felt confident I could do a good job.

“I knew all last week I could be in with a chance of playing, but it was only the day before the game that it was pretty clear Grixy would be out. That’s when I knew I was in.

“But Grixy was great with me over it.

“Even though he was obviously gutted to be missing such a big game, the encouragement and support he gave me in the build-up to the match was fantastic.

“Because I’m a full-back, I’m effectively a challenger for his position, but he doesn’t see it like that.

Huddersfield Giants coach Paul Anderson after the hooter in the loss to Warrington Wolves
Huddersfield Giants coach Paul Anderson after the hooter in the loss to Warrington Wolves
 

“He wants me to do well and he wants the team to do well, and I really appreciate that.

“But that’s the attitude that exists throughout the club. We’re such a tight-knit group and we never fail to give each other the maximum amount of support, and for a young player like me that’s vital.

“I was obviously really nervous ahead of the game the other night, but all the boys were there to help me through. It was no trouble for them at all.

“And when I dropped that ball in the second half to put us under pressure, all of the boys came to me and told me not to worry because they all thought I was playing well.

“The fact the mistake could have cost us a try at a crucial time didn’t seem to be their main concern, it was making sure they kept on encouraging me.”

Fortunately, his only error on a busy night didn’t cost his side a try.

And he’s already setting his sights on building on his exploits and establishing himself even more as a player of note.

“This game has definitely done my confidence a lot of good,” said Connor.

“I felt with the way I played at Bradford that I could handle playing at this level, and I feel even more confident after the Warrington game.

“I know I probably won’t play in many harder games than this, but I did feel pretty comfortable. I was happy with what I did.

“I’ve now got the two England Tests against Wales next month – I’m away with the squad when it’s my 19th birthday (October 18) – and I can’t wait to get back out on the field an play again.

“It was fantastic getting the hat trick and being named man-of-the-match when we won in France in the summer, and hopefully I’ll do just as well playing against Wales.

“But it’ll take something special to match the other night, even though we were all absolutely gutted not to reach the Grand Final.

“As I said, my confidence just keeps growing and growing, and I’m already looking forward to getting down to pre-season training after the England games.