THERE may not be many familiar faces in the Huddersfield Giants squad this evening but, as one of the few, Luke George is looking to make just as big an impact as the raft of rookies around him.
The former Wakefield Trinity Wildcats winger is leaving his home-town club at the end of the season to take up a two-year deal with, ironically, tonight’s opponents Bradford Bulls.
He gets a rare opportunity to remind people of his pedigree, having had to watch most of Huddersfield’s historic campaign as a frustrated onlooker.
George – who scored 17 tries in 25 games last season – has played just once since coming off the bench at Castleford in early April, with prolific Jermaine McGillvary and Aaron Murphy nailing down the flank spots as Paul Anderson’s side strode to top spot for the first time in 81 years.
They lifted the League Leaders’ Shield after defeating Wakefield 40-0 on Sunday night and that is largely why the coach can afford to leave out 13 of his side from that game for the short trip to Odsal.
So, plenty of the club’s Academy products are set for their debuts with George also making a welcome return as the majority of Huddersfield’s stars rest in readiness for Thursday’s play-off with Wigan Warriors.
“I am looking forward to it,” the 25-year-old admitted to the Yorkshire Post, having last played against Catalan in June.
“It’s been a long time coming but everyone’s been playing so well it’s been hard to force my way in. To be able to play again is great.
“Playing against the side I’m joining next season is nothing new; it’s happened before so I’ll just treat it like any other game.
“Hopefully, I’ll play well enough to show the Bradford fans what I’m capable of but it’s more about this year for me, getting the two points for Giants and rounding off the regular season with another win.”
Part of George’s inability to get a look-in at Huddersfield has been the incredible fitness record of his team-mates with Anderson having a settled side almost all year.
“The physios and medical set-up have done really well this season and we’ve only really suffered one or two short-term injuries rather than any bad ones,” he said, England’s Leroy Cudjoe and the excellent Joe Wardle denying him a place at centre, too.
“In that respect, it’s helped us going forward for the full season as there’s not been too much disruption to the side.
“It’s been a terrific week after last Sunday. Everyone’s been buzzing and the Mayor of Huddersfield actually invited us to a bit of a reception on Tuesday.
“That shows it’s a big deal not just for the club and us as players but the whole town.
“For us local lads, it’s been great winning the League Leaders’ Shield but more so for Eorl (Crabtree) given how long he’s been here, far longer than anyone else.”
George, son of former Huddersfield winger Wilf, who won a league title with Halifax in 1986, knows the importance of taking his opportunity tonight to maybe stake a late claim for the play-offs as the West Yorkshire club bid to reach a first Grand Final.
“It would be nice to do that but obviously I’ve to see what the coach decides and you can’t really change a winning team like we’ve got at the moment,” he added, realistically accepting only an injury could see him recalled permanently.
“The side is performing so well so I’ll just go along, bide my time, hopefully put in a good performance at Bradford and if it happens it happens.
“If not, I’m right behind the lads as always.”
Out of this plethora of teenagers due to make their bow in front of the television cameras at Odsal, who are the ones to keep an eye on?
“They’re all a good bunch of lads who have gone well in the Under 19s this year,” said George, who had a loan spell at Hull KR earlier this year.
“Jake Connor is probably the one to watch out for, though.
“He is a real class kid, who’s just 18 and is real star already.
“He’s played for England Academy and is one of those who can play centre, half-back or full-back.
“Jake’s a great asset to us.”
Huddersfield will tonight be aiming to atone for their 43-18 home defeat against the Bulls in March, their biggest loss of the campaign and one of only five in Super League.
But clearly the main focus is on that imminent play-off contest with Wigan as Anderson’s side look to move to within just 80 minutes of Old Trafford.
George insisted his confident colleagues were never concerned who they would face – Leeds Rhinos were in fourth spot until the current champions won at Wigan on Thursday – and added: “We’ll take on whoever comes.
“You can’t really plan who you want in the play-offs - that’s a load of rubbish – and we know on our day we can beat anyone.
“We need to be on our game on Thursday night and perform to the best we can.”
It was an epic 30-12 win at long-time leaders Wigan only last month that put Huddersfield in command of gaining first place.
If they can repeat that feat this time at John Smith’s Stadium, a first title since 1962 is ever closer.