Do the Giants still believe they can win a game in Super League XXI?
Ask any of the players whether they can, and you’ll get a very direct reply. ‘Yes, 100%,’ would be the universal answer.
Unfortunately, however, it’s one thing believing it, it’s another thing doing it, as the struggling Giants are discovering to their cost right now.
There’s no doubting this wounded team’s ability, even if it is one of the ‘skinniest’ squads in the top-flight competition,
But while they’re stuck in this current rut and somehow attempting to come to terms with their position at the bottom of the table with one win from their opening 10 League fixtures, the mental scars are bound to show through.
As someone who has gained a degree in exercise physiology, I’ve always championed that cause ahead of the psychology of sport, even if a combination of the two is required to get the very best out of an athlete.
But because the physiology of exercise is an exact science – the results are so easy to record in respect to the physical development of the sportsman and the results they achieve, for example getting faster and stronger – it’s always been held in very high esteem.
In contrast, opinion can be divided when it comes to the world of sports psychology.
The methods involved and the results achieved can be effective – as long as the athletes are prepared to take it all on board in the first place, which is absolutely critical. If they don’t, the psychologist faces a thankless task.
But right now, when it comes to the Giants, the psychological component has never been more important.
It’s just so painfully obvious with the way Huddersfield are playing this season that it’s a psychological rather than physical problem.
Yes, the Giants have suffered serious fade-outs in many of their games this season, when they’ve battled their way into a potentially match-winning position and then conceded tries in the final quarter to throw the game away. That’s been the sorry tale in the defeats against Wigan, Leeds, Wakefield, Salford, Castleford and Hull.
So is that simply down to fitness?
Oh, if it was only that simple!
The players are all adamant they are as fit and as strong as ever, which clearly poses the question why do they appear to lose the energy battle late on?
And this is the root cause of the problem.
Official match statistics are showing that, on average, the Giants are having to make up to 100 tackles more than their opponents per game, and when defending takes more juice out of the can than attacking, the fate of head coach Paul Anderson’s men is almost inevitably sealed.
And why is this the case?
The answer is a psychological one.
Time and time again this season, we’ve seen the Giants trying to overplay in a bid to turn things around. The result, more often than not, is the ball being turned over to the opposition cheaply, sometimes on play one, two or three. Their opponents just love it and Huddersfield, sub-consciously, just think ‘here we go again’.
Take a look at the Giants season so far below
Overplaying is a classic sign of anxiety and the anxiety increases as the errors are, almost inevitably, compounded. Nothing starts to flow naturally.
And with anxiety an emotion that robs you of energy, the final stages take on that all-too-familiar and demoralising pattern.
So is it any great surprise that tackling technique suffers (it always will under fatigue) and the heads start to drop?
The players have given it their all, and again see their efforts go to waste through no fault but their own.
Anderson and his coaching staff have tried every trick in the book to shake the Giants out of their psychological malaise.
They’ve kept all the training sessions as positive as they can, and they’ve shown the players numerous clips of games over the past few seasons to remind them how good they can be and how effective they are when they get back to basics and keep things simple.
After all, that’s what earned them the Super League Leaders Shield in 2013.
They’re also constantly reminded that they aren’t the worst team in the competition, despite their current League standing.
This week, Warrington Wolves head to town – a star-studded side who endured a wretched time last season, but held their nerve and are now leading the competition at the halfway stage of the regular season.
They never stopped believing and kept the faith and, having now rediscovered their winning momentum, there’s no stopping them.
So if it’s happened to Warrington Wolves, why can’t it happen to Huddersfield Giants?
Getting that second win of the season really could make all the difference in the world, both physically and psychologically.