Huddersfield Giants head coach Rick Stone is expecting to start Super League 2018 in a position of strength.
The Giants head to Hull FC on Thursday, February 1, for their opening game of the top-flight season and Stone is expecting absentees to be at a minimum.
He is counting only club captain Leroy Cudjoe and second rower Alex Mellor out of the equation at the moment, as the pair recover from respective knee and hand injuries.
“I expect everyone to be available play in the first match with the exception of Alex Mellor, who has a broken thumb, and Leroy, who is still recovering from his knee problem,” said Stone.
“They are the two that won’t be available for the first round of matches, but we will have the likes of Jermaine McGillvary and Kruise Leeming ready to play.
“Kruise has had a problem with an inflamed Achilles and hasn’t featured in the friendlies yet, so he may play at the weekend and knock off some rust.”
The Giants play their final warm-up match against Workinton Town at Derwent Park on Saturday – with the potential for Leeming and prop Seb Ikahihifo being among first-teamers to get a run.
A 32-22 win against Dewsbury Rams kicked off the Giants’ build-up, followed by a narrow 26-22 reversal at Super League rivals Wakefield Trinity, and Stone is happy with the progress his squad are making.
“ Against Wakefield we were up against good quality opposition and a good quality game and it was certainly a step up from the game against Dewsbury,” said Stone.
“We played a lot more of the senior boys against Wakefield and we got plenty out of it.
“If there was a disappointment it was the way we defended our own line at times and to concede as many points as we did.
“It was probably not perfect, but what we wanted was to give the boys time out on the field, so it gave us that chance and now we move to the next stage.
“Possibly we will take first-teamers to Workington, ideally because I would like to see most of our forwards get two games under their belts.
“We will see how things are and we may have to protect ourselves a little bit as we are getting close to that first Super League game at Hull.”
Stone added: “We are comfortable with where we are, we know we have got plenty of room for improvement.
“Also we have got a few boys still to come back into the side and they will make a bit of difference, but the Wakefield game was a good exercise – and we came through unscathed.
“Overall we will have a good look at that performance and we need to improve in terms of discipline in defence and our ball control, a bit of focus on the process.”
And some of the club’s emerging young stars have impressed Stone over the two matches.
“Jacob Wardle played his first game in about 18 months at Wakefield and ended up out on the left wing in the second half, and he did pretty well,” added Stone.
“Matty English has also come on in both the two warm-up games and has done pretty well, and he did a decent job at Wakefield.”