August 5, 2021, 0:31

Jon Wells: A tale of two seasons for Thursday’s Super League opponents Hull FC and Huddersfield Giants

Jon Wells: A tale of two seasons for Thursday’s Super League opponents Hull FC and Huddersfield Giants

Huddersfield and Hull FC face off in Thursday’s live Super League match

In the lead up to Thursday night’s live Super League action on Sky Sports, I thought it may be interesting to have a look at the respective teams’ journeys in 2021 to date.

Huddersfield Giants sit 11th in the table going into Round 15 with Hull FC occupying fourth spot. That already tells you a lot. But as you scratch just beneath the surface of the bare results, you begin to reveal perhaps the real reasons behind what are two wildly contrasting stories and sets of fortunes.

Key among those are the amount of personnel changes each team made coming into this season; Hull FC few, Huddersfield Giants plenty – and with noise and fanfare.

Huddersfield Giants vs Hull FC

July 22, 2021, 7:00pm

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Let’s take a look at Hull FC first, because that’s the less complex story of the two. After finishing sixth last season and progressing to the semi-final before being beaten by eventual runners-up Wigan, I don’t think anyone was expecting any major overhaul.

Ultimately the inward movement in the market was limited to two – one player, one coach. Josh Reynolds was the player, and he was newly installed head coach Brett Hodgson’s only addition to what was a really settled-looking Black and Whites squad.

They currently sit in fourth, having only lost three times this season to Super League heavyweights St Helens, Catalans Dragons and Wigan Warriors (Yes, I consider Catalans a heavyweight side these days – take a look at the table), and there is no shame in that.

There also seems to be a very good understanding developing between Hodgson and Reynolds, as well as a mutual respect.

Josh Reynolds has made a big impact at Hull FC in his first season

The former has gained an on-field general who ensures his rugby philosophy is followed to the letter, while the latter has gained a shot at reigniting a career which was in real danger of petering out after becoming something of a makeweight with Wests Tigers in the NRL. The sporting definition of a symbiotic relationship. All is well in East Yorkshire.

Now the story that is a little more difficult to unpack. I’ll say first that I don’t remember Huddersfield proclaiming that they were going to shake up Super League in 2021 – we all did that on their behalf.

So, there’s that – but then what did they expect after a cash dump well in excess of half-a-million pounds (A second caveat: that is “back of napkin” maths) which facilitated the move of the under-contract Ian Watson from the Salford Red Devils.

That in turn paved the way for the arrival of key backroom staff familiar to Watson, the signing of Luke Yates (also from Salford, also under contract), Josh Jones, Jack Cogger, Ricky Leutele and Joe Greenwood among others.

Highlights from the Betfred Super League clash between Huddersfield Giants and Wigan Warriors

Moving 12 out and bringing nine in on the playing side is some broom wielded by Watson and this is where the nucleus of the issue lies for me – because there is no doubt that second from bottom in the Super League table at the halfway point of the season was not in anybody’s plans at Huddersfield or anybody’s thoughts in general.

There is a pressure, a weight of expectation that manifests itself whenever a sporting organisation makes a statement like this, and it is rarely worked into the equation at the time either.

Add to that murmurings of disquiet at Huddersfield as far back as the start of the season – which are now spilling into the public domain – and you start to see cracks appear.

A collective, collaborative drive is the most difficult of states of mind to keep on track and can quickly fray at the edges when a key player or players, having initially subsumed their own opinion on how to play the game for the collective good, start to be called out when performances and results aren’t forthcoming.

Ian Watson has had a mixed start to life as Huddersfield head coach

Ian Watson has a challenge ahead of him. I’ve no doubt he’s up for it, and I actually think he’s capable of pushing through this transition period.

But he will need support to do that – support from his players and, crucially, from the board of directors at the Giants who will have to stand firm at a time when questions are only naturally being asked.

Which brings us neatly, and finally, to Thursday’s game. Hull FC haven’t played for nearly a month. Covid-19 means they enter Round 15 having only played 11. Their last game? A victory over the Huddersfield Giants.

The Black and Whites will want to pick up where they left off because for the western half of Hull, 2021 is a season full of promise.

Highlights from the Betfred Super League clash between Hull FC and Huddersfield Giants

That last FC win against the Giants was a tight encounter in which the Giants led for an hour. But there is little succour to be sought out there, because the results list tells you that that loss was the third in a run of six straight defeats, a month and a half in the season when they conceded 144 points and scored only 70.

They desperately need to snap that losing run and to breathe life into their season, and they need everyone on the same page. At 10pm on Thursday night we will know whether they did and whether they were.


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