AS FIFTH-placed Huddersfield continue to go from strength to strength in National II North, the Otley influence now operating at Lockwood Park cannot be under-estimated.
Head coach Dan Hyde gained much of his experience and know-how while playing for Leeds Carnegie and Otley, while his first major signing was his former Otley captain and close friend Ian Shuttleworth, whose knowledge has undoubtedly been a massive factor in helping the club rise to unparalleled heights.
The 36-year-old deputy head at QEGS School in Wakefield joined Huddersfield just over 12 months ago, after being tempted and persuaded to leave the then National League Division I club with a view to signing as a player-coach (specifically for the backs).
He was to play only a dozen games in the 2010/11 season before concentrating more on coaching duties, with the result that he now runs many of the training sessions, implements many of the game plans and (when the head coach decides to don his playing boots) is now the ‘man in charge’ on the touchline on Saturday afternoons.
Shuttleworth began his career at Sandal before joining Wakefield as an 18-year-old, when he first came into contact with Huddersfield’s previous director of rugby Mark Sowerby.
Predominantly a fly-half or full-back, ‘Shutts’ played with the county’s Under 19s, 21s and Colts, and a number of first-team games at Wakefield, before returning to Sandal for a spell. From there he joined the Cross Green club where he was later to be installed as captain.
“I got to know Dan when he joined us at Otley from Leeds, and it was through my friendship with him that he asked me to come over to Huddersfield after he was made head coach,” reflected Shuttleworth, who is married with two children (Leighton and Mariella) and lives in Wakefield.
“Initially it was to join him as a player/coach with the responsibility of coaching the backs, but it has now evolved into more of a shared role, and I think we dovetail pretty well together.
“And since I arrived I’ve been really impressed at the way they seem to grow week by week, both as a team and as a club.
“They have a fantastic team ethos here at Huddersfield, where they not only play for each other, but also put their bodies on the line for each other.
“We have plenty of talented players in the squad, but it is this underlying ethos which makes Huddersfield a ‘star team’ rather than a team of stars, which is a factor we are continually trying to build on and emphasise.
“There is no doubt that the League is much tougher this year than last, when basically three teams were cast adrift early in the season. So at the start of the season our first priority was to stay up, the second was to match our finish last season, and the third is to be pushing for a top-six berth, which is now our priority.
“If we can maintain a top-six finish (or even fifth which is where Huddersfield currently stand) that would represent a fantastic result for us. We are not looking at promotion, but if we can keep improving year-on-year, then who knows what may happen down the line?”
Shuttleworth wavers a little when asked if he has ‘hung up his match boots?’
“I did score a hat trick in training the other day, and sometimes I do question myself as to whether I would still like to enjoy the buzz of playing. But I think I now prefer to invest my time in working and assisting the other players, unless of course we have an injury crisis, and then I might have to reconsider.”
Shuttleworth has proved to be one of Huddersfield’s best signings and has fitted seamlessly into the club and that all-important team ethos, as in fact has his nine-year-old son Leighton who is the team’s ‘tee-boy’ and who was taken into the Huddersfield dressing room for the end-of-season celebrations when the players invited him to join in the fun with some nonalcoholic lager (much to dad’s concern).
“We’ve made a really strong start to the season.
“If you take out the Hull Ionians game, which served as a real wake-up call and showed just what can happen if you go into a match not totally switched on, plus the home game against Caldy when I felt we’d done enough to win, only to be denied by an injury-time penalty, then we are nigh-on unbeaten.
“Certainly at the moment, this is a very good place to be.”