IT PROVED to be a Super League roller-coaster ride from start to finish!
Huddersfield Giants experienced more ups and downs in 2010 than ever before as head coach Nathan Brown’s side continued to prove themselves a major top-flight force.
For the first time in the club’s history, Huddersfield tasted Super League play-off victory to move within 80 minutes of an appearance in the Grand Final at Old Trafford.
Their opening success in the now traditional end-of-season shake-up was a nail-biting 18-12 home triumph over Crusaders when victory was sealed with a last-minute long-range Leroy Cudjoe try.
And the new England international then repeated the act in more dramatic fashion seven days later as the Giants secured a stunning 34-22 triumph at Warrington Wolves to set up a semi-final showdown at St Helens in the final game ever to be staged at their famous Knowsley Road stadium.
It was always going to be a tough test for the visitors – having to deal with the emotion of the occasion as well as a fired-up Saints side – but until the final 30 minutes, a trip to the Theatre of Dreams was well within the Giants’ grasp.
An early second-half try from Lee Gilmour gave Huddersfield a 22-18 advantage, and Saints looked to be on the ropes.
But as soon as St Helens hero Keiron Cunningham came off the substitutes bench in what was to be his final game in a glorious 17-year career, the tide began to turn and the home side stormed to a 42-22 victory.
The margin of their win was harsh in the extreme on Huddersfield, who had battled superbly throughout, and it clearly hit them hard.
But the club didn’t have to wait long for an incredible pick-me-up as six Giants were named in the England Four Nations squad for the trip to Australia and New Zealand. Kevin Brown, Eorl Crabtree, Leroy Cudjoe, Darrell Griffin, Shaun Lunt and Luke Robinson were all given a call-up to former Giants captain Steve McNamara’s squad, with Robinson regarded by many as the biggest success story on what was a disappointing tour.
However, the experience of such a trip is bound to have benefited all six players as the Giants look to build on last season’s fifth-placed finish.
And it was a position that earlier in the year looked highly unlikely.
Things had started brightly with several rock-solid successes and the recruitment of Wakefield play-making star Danny Brough at the end of March.
His arrival to fit in at the pivotal scrum-half role was bound to cause some initial disruption as he adjusted to playing under a new system, but it was just the start of a period of some instability.
The news that inspirational captain and Super League Man of Steel Brett Hodgson had signed a two-year deal with Warrington hit the squad hard, with a 60-4 home Challenge Cup defeat to the Wolves the most startling fall-out.
But that wasn’t the end of the dip.
Just days after that thrashing at the hands of the Cup holders, Nathan Brown announced he would be quitting as head coach at the end of the season for ‘family reasons’, just two years into a planned three-year stay.
Again, the players had suffered a massive hammer blow, and the Giants went on to win only two of their next nine games.
At that stage, the Giants’ hopes of reaching the play-offs looked to be fading rapidly.
Then, almost out of the blue, Brown performed a U-turn and the Giants were immediately back on track.
From that point, Huddersfield won eight of their final 10 games to move to within a whisker of the Super League Grand Final.
Who knows what would have happened if there hadn’t been such mid-season instability.
And who knows what may happen if such instability can be avoided in 2011.
There was even greater play-off success for Underbank Rangers, who reached their second successive Conference National Grand Final.
But it was again to end in disappointment as they were beaten 23-18 by Warrington Wizards at the Halliwell Jones Stadium.
On the local amateur rugby league front, Slaithwaite Saracens beat Emley Moor in the Holliday Cup final to back up their Pennine League First Division title triumph.