CAN the man with the ‘Midas Touch’ do it again for the famous claret and gold of Huddersfield?
In the two years Nathan Brown has been at the helm, he’s taken the Giants to a Challenge Cup final at Wembley and to within 80 minutes of a Super League Grand Final at Old Trafford.
That in itself is a remarkable achievement for a club that may not have the same long-established Super League resources as the likes of a Leeds, Wigan, St Helens, Bradford or Warrington.
Yet it’s clear Brown believes his work here is far from done.
At this stage, the popular Australian hasn’t ruled out signing a contract extension which will keep him in West Yorkshire beyond the initial three years. His current deal is up at the end of the Super League XVI season.
And it’s possible the deciding factor could depend on how much further he can take the club in 2011.
The former head coach of St George Dragons in the Australian NRL may find it impossible to return back home if he brings even greater success to the Galpharm.
It was clear last season’s 44-22 play-off semi-final defeat at St Helens hit the Huddersfield chief hard.
He was desperate to get his underdogs to Old Trafford, and when the Giants led 22-18 10 minutes into the second half, his dream looked like it could become a reality.
So could this year be the year instead?
Brown clearly believes it can.
While refusing to predict his team are capable of doing this or that, he firmly feels his squad are in a stronger position to challenge.
Last Monday’s highly-convincing 36-12 pre-season triumph at full-strength St Helens proves that.
But he knows the acid test comes on Saturday when the Giants face a Warrington side that Brown believes will be one of the teams to beat in 2011.
“Compared with last season, we do feel we’ve improved as a team,” said Brown, despite the fact he has lost senior players Brett Hodgson, Stephen Wild, Martin Aspinwall, Brad Drew and Simon Finnigan from last year’s squad and made only two major signings in Australian NRL recruits Luke O’Donnell and Jamie Simpson.
“But we know that if we don’t we’ll get left behind a bit, because we expect the others clubs in the competition to have improved, too. Our opponents on Saturday, Warrington, are a case in point.
“Every player in our squad has made some improvement somewhere and the players have all responded magnificently to what has been a very tough pre-season under (head conditioner) Paul Watson.
“And this has all been reflected in the friendlies.
“Our first team has won against St Helens’ strongest available side and at home to an almost full-strength Hull KR, which is fairly positive, even though the performances showed there’s still room for improvement.
“On top of that, we’ve definitely added some depth.
“There are some young guys who have been in our system for a few years who are ready for Super League now, while there are a couple of young kids who we’ve brought in that have added to our squad.
“There’s no question, therefore, that the bottom part of our squad has improved significantly, and that we do have more young players to call upon if we struggle on the injury front.”
But while Brown has been particularly encouraged by the development of some of the younger members of his squad, he knows all eyes will be on his senior players as soon as the season gets under way.
Much will be expected of marquee signing O’Donnell, the tough back-row forward who has 10 Australia Test caps to his name, and scrum-half Danny Brough, who has just completed his first pre-season with the club following his move from Wakefield at the end of March last year.
And the Giants boss is confident both men will rise to the challenge.
“Luke was always going to need a bit of time to find his feet with us,” added Brown.
“I think he’s been at the same club (North Queensland Cowboys) for the past seven years, so it’s been a big change for him.
“Not only has he had to get used to playing and training with a new squad, he’s also had to learn to adapt to our systems. On top of that, he’s had to get used to the English conditions as well.
“But he’s coming along very well, and he’s clearly improved in the two games he’s played with us in pre-season.
“We imagine he’ll keep on improving and, although we’re happy where he’s at right now, we know his confidence and fitness will grow and his influence on the team will become even more significant.
“There’s no question Luke is a big signing for us.
“And I think ‘improvement’ is the term we can also use about Danny.
“He’s clearly developed certain parts of his game since he’s been with us and he’s had a superb pre-season with us.
“He’s been one of our leading trainers – I don’t think he’s missed a single training session – and he’s now working more effectively with his teammates now they’ve spent more time on the training field with each other.
“Towards the end of last season Danny showed just how valuable he’ll be to us in terms of his kicking game alone, and we’re looking forward to seeing how much he can progress this year.
“Obviously, our success won’t just be down to individuals, it’ll be down to the team as a whole.
“And we’re confident that with the squad we’ve got, we’ll put ourselves in with a good shot this year if everyone plays to their full potential.”