Written by John Davidson
Huddersfield have long been one of the underachievers of Super League, one of the clubs with potential that never quite puts it all together.
The Giants have never won a grand final or made it to Old Trafford. They won a League Leader’s Shield in 2013, and made it to two Challenge Cup finals in 2006 and 2009, but never managed to kick on.
In 2020 the club finished seventh, in 2019 10th and in 2018 fifth. Coaches have come and gone with regularity.
But Ian Watson has come to the John Smith’s Stadium to change that, to turn Huddersfield around and make them serious contenders in the upper echelon of Super League. Backed by a strong recruitment drive and a wealthy owner in Ken Davy, Watson has made a start in rejuvenating the Giants.
“The big one for us is taking it step by step and kind of starting again if you like a little bit – building our processes and changing what the club’s about,” the coach told Everything Rugby League.
“I think it’s about six years since they’ve been near the top end of the table. They’ve kind of been at the wrong end.
“They’ve always had potential within the group because of some of the players that they’ve got, but it’s just up to us to make sure we harness that potential into a team performance more than anything.
“We’re focusing really hard on the team, getting the right processes, the right style of play that fits the players that we’ve got there.”
Watson has brought in his strength and conditioner from Salford, Greg Brown, and made a series of impressive signings. Eight new players have arrived, including Jack Cogger from the NRL, while 10 others have departed.
March 28, Brett Hodgson & Ian Watson take charge of their new clubs for the first time in #SuperLeague 💪@hullfcofficial v @Giantsrl live on Sky Sports Mix & Arena, 12:30pm KO 👊#BeReady pic.twitter.com/0HCaXkaTDl
— Betfred Super League (@SuperLeague) February 12, 2021
Setting new standards and culture changes is high on the 44-year-old’s agenda.
“The club has got some really good players, some really good young players as well,” he said.
“But what they probably miss is a few of those guys who have been in big games, been winners – so like Ricky Leutele playing in an NRL grand final, Josh Jones playing in grand finals and in Great Britain internationals, Joe Greenwood doing the same – that level of player will help bring those younger guys on a well and push them to a different level.
“But it will also make the other players in and around them better as well. So the competition within each other gets better and when you’ve got people like Josh Jones and Luke Yates like putting pressure on your halfbacks like Aiden Sezer and Olly Russell and them, they learn more off that.
“So the competition in and around the set-up has been better and that’s probably one of the things that you can’t overlook is the work that the squad does.
“Everyone always sees the XVII that go out on the weekend but it’s a squad sport, you with stuff by the squad doing well not just by the XVII going out on the weekend. So we’ve had a really big focus on that, we want to push each other really hard as a group.
“And I think that’s probably what was missing was those key players, more of them, more of them guys who have won things.”
St Helen and Wigan are the markers of success for Watson, the type of clubs he wants Huddersfield to emulate.
“Before Salford played St Helens in the grand final I said the way they were set up, they were set up to be a really kind of dominant team for the next couple of years, and obviously they backed that up last year as well,” he said.
“It’s for all of us to kind of chase them down really and take over from them. That’s the challenge for Huddersfield eventually, we want to be one of those teams that’s in the top four consistently and consistently competing to win things.
“The way we’ll do that is by getting all of our processes right and every buying in as a team.
“So interesting times for us. Wigan, St Helens, those kinds of teams will always be up there because of the infrastructure they’ve got, so it’s up to us and the rest of Super League to go after them.”