Huddersfield Giants pack powerhouse Shannon Wakeman is expecting an explosive start to the Super 8s.
The Giants begin the seven-game second phase to the Super League season with a West Yorkshire derby at home to Wakefield Trinity at the John Smith’s Stadium tonight (8pm).
While five points separate Trinity, who finished the regular season in fifth place, and the Giants, who were eighth, both sides need a winning start if they are to force their way into the top four and have a shot at reaching the Grand Final at Old Trafford on October 7.
Giants won their home Super League encounter 24-16 soon after the start of the season, but Wakefield won the clash at Belle Vue by a narrow 28-26 margin, so the Super 8s clash could prove hard to call.
“We went close at Wakefield and that was a tough game played in the hottest conditions this season,” said prop forward Wakeman.
“But this season they have won one and we have won one, so I am expecting a really decent game.
“We are looking forward to it and we know we have to knock them down if we are going to do something in the Super 8s and get to the top four, so it will be a big game.”
For the 27-year-old, who has won one international cap for Italy, the Super 8s are a whole new concept, but he does not see it as a fresh start for the Giants.
“It has been a long season, so it doesn’t really feel like a fresh start, but it is exciting,” said Wakeman.
“It is certainly different for me and it will be a challenge for the team, but as far as the competition goes I guess I will learn as we go along.
“We need to win our early games and start off strong because we need to put our foot in the door if we are going to make the top four.
“We know it will be a real challenge, but we will give it a real shot and see how we go.”
Wakeman was a close-season signing from Intrust Super Premiership outfit Illawarra Cutters, and he admitted that the change to Super League had brought a few surprises.
“It was all very different for me at the start of the season,” revealed Wakeman.
“I really didn’t know too much about Super League when I came over.
“Back home we spend a lot of time watching the NRL and Super League doesn’t get much exposure – in Australia you only get to see the odd game every now and again.
“Having got here, I have found that it is a very different type of game.
“Lots of teams over here seem ready to take a lot more risks than teams would in the NRL.
“I feel here teams will run the short side a lot more often, and they will go for a 40-20 or a kick early in the set of six, rather than waiting to the end of the set of six to kick, just because they feel they can.
“It is like everything, in some ways it is a good thing, but in others it is bad. Sometimes teams try things that will backfire – it’s definitely a lot riskier tactically in Super League.”
Wakeman has steadily worked his way into a Giants side that has improved all season under the patient guidance of head coach Rick Stone, and the forward is happy with the progress, which he feels will stand the team in good stead in the Super 8s.
“The change in the Giants season has really been about our mindset,” said Wakeman.
“As the season has gone on, everybody involved feels they know how each other plays, so we feel that we can trust each other – which is such a big part of the game.
“We have to keep going from where we were in Super League, we put in some good performances later in the regular season and we just need to stick at that.
“If we win in the Super 8s that would be good, but personally I would be happy if we just continue to put in a good level of performance for the rest of the season.
“And if we do that, then I would reckon we would be winning most likely.”
And getting the set-up right in defence has been a big factor for the Giants.
“I feel that we have been performing well for a while now,” added Wakeman.
“There have been some good games and there was only really the Salford game of late where we really slipped up.
“Besides that one game we have turned up and given every team we have faced a really good game.
“At times it has been tough and we have really been grinding it through, but equally we have been performing much better.
“At the start of the year it really didn’t feel as though we were defending as a team, and a lot of teams we were up against were capitalising on that.
“Now I feel that if we make a mistake then we will back each other to defend it.
“We have faith in each other and there is a lot of confidence in the group defensively at the moment.”