THIS has rapidly become one of the most exciting times of the year – the annual trip to the South of France to take on Catalans Dragons in Perpignan!

In the three years the Dragons have been part of Super League, the away fixture at their place has become one of the most eagerly-awaited on the rugby league calendar.

It’s a fixture players and fans alike really look forward to, and this year is no exception.

I’m sure there will be a great following for us, because I’m aware of quite a few of the players’ family and friends are making the trip, as well as a healthy number of fans. I just hope we can put a show on for them.

However, what should be guaranteed is a cracking atmosphere inside the ground, with the Giants fans mingling with those from Catalans.

The Dragons have a fantastic stadium and they are really packing the supporters in on the back of such a strong start to this Super League season.

The French fans really appreciate their rugby league and are extremely partisan, and if we can keep them quiet on the night we know we must be doing something right.

But the good thing about the trip to France isn’t just a change of scene.

It’s the time for us as a squad to spend some quality time together, helping make the bond between us even stronger. We left yesterday morning and will return on Sunday lunchtime, and because we enjoy each other’s company so much it should prove a very productive trip in terms of team spirit.

There’s no doubt we’ll all benefit from that, but I believe it’s the younger members of the squad who will benefit the most.

This trip is the first time the likes of Michael Lawrence, Leroy Cudjoe and Danny Kirmond will have experienced anything like this, and I’m sure they’ll thoroughly enjoy themselves.

These type of fixtures are fantastic in terms of their rugby league education and development, and I’ve also no doubt that if they play tomorrow they will give excellent accounts of the themselves.

All three were outstanding in our big win over Hull KR last Sunday and were definitely at the heart of our success.

The fans have already seen a fair amount of Michael and Leroy and are quite rightly excited about their prospects.

And now they can add Danny to that list.

He obviously joined us from Featherstone Rovers at the start of the season as a winger, but he already looked a very accomplished back-row forward.

When he came on as a substitute against the Robins last weekend they really struggled to handle him down the middle, with several of his breaks catching the eye of everyone.

I’m sure the fans are already looking forward to seeing him in action once again, whenever that will be.

But on the evidence of what we have all seen so far, he seems another player who has the potential to go on and have a big career in Super League, just like Michael and Leroy.

And next year those three, as well as the rest of us, will be joined in the Giants’ ranks by Wests Tigers full-back Brett Hodgson.

Brett is obviously a quality player, having played State of Origin in Australia on a number of occasions, and those members of our squad who played with him in the Australian NRL are really excited about teaming up with him again for 2009.

Personally, I’m also excited about welcoming such a great player, even though he will be vying for the same positions as me!

But I can live with that, because he’s clearly going to enhance the quality of squad we now possess at the Giants.

To be honest, I haven’t spoken to Jon (Sharp) about what his arrival may mean to me. There’s still half of this season to think about before then, of course!

However, I have spent this year having spells at full-back and half-back and I’ve been happy with the way things have been working.

At this stage, I see no reason at all why something similar won’t prove even more effective in Super League XIV.

But let’s worry about Super League XIII first!