Giants enter fray under the radar as stakes are raised

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HUDDERSFIELD Giants coach Paul Anderson admits he has temporarily abandoned searching for the perfect performance and insists only one thing now matters: victory.

His side get this season’s Super League play-offs underway tonight when they visit champions Wigan Warriors in a qualifying tie at DW Stadium.

Huddersfield's Jake Connor hits the Saints defence

Huddersfield's Jake Connor hits the Saints defence

Huddersfield, who climbed up to claim third spot after a thrilling 17-16 win over leaders St Helens last Friday, enter the series as the competition’s form team.

Castleford Tigers were the last opponents to get the better of them on July 11, the Fartowners stringing together a seven-game sequence since that includes six victories and a dramatic draw at Warrington.

Nevertheless, Anderson has often been far from impressed with his squad’s displays and, during that run, has continually insisted they must improve to be realistic title challengers come the business end of the campaign.

Yet when asked if it was encouraging to now be venturing into the defining contests knowing there is still more to come, he told The Yorkshire Post: “I don’t know. We have been saying that for a fair while.

“People do say it’s important taking form into the play-offs. But what’s important when you get here is winning. It doesn’t matter now how you win or how you play.

“You have to get some fluency with your combinations and some simple things in the game and you never know if it’ll come off for you.

“But it is all about winning.”

Of course, paradoxically, Huddersfield will, by virtue of finishing in the top four, gain a second stab next week at reaching the semi-finals if they do fall this evening.

Anderson would prefer to see them earn the luxury of a week off, if anything to give captain Danny Brough longer to recover from the swollen testicle that saw the reigning Man of Steel miss that epic Saints win and, also, this evening’s fixture.

“It’s changed from a few weeks ago when we were all moaning about having time off (due to the Challenge Cup semis and final) and we didn’t want it,” he continued.

“Back then we were all healthy and it’s amazing how things can change in a couple of weeks. The benefit of winning now is we do get that week off.

“Broughy won’t be ready for Wigan. It’s not that I don’t want to risk him. He’s just not fit.

“But we’ve got Scott Grix back and Eorl (Crabtree), too, while Robbo will be fine as well.”

Scrum-half Luke Robinson was taken off in a dazed state after Alex Walmsley hit him with a high tackle in the first half last week, a challenge that saw the Saints prop dismissed and earn a ban that means he misses their play-off with Castleford tomorrow.

Huddersfield coped admirably without the ex-England player and 19-year-old Jake Connor – mainly used at full-back in his handful of previous appearances – showed real maturity filling in for Brough, scoring one try and kicking two goals.

Anderson will not be afraid to thrust the teenager into the crucial half-back role again, even for such a significant game as tonight, although he admits still not knowing what Connor’s long-term position will be.

“I’m not sure, if I’m honest,” he said. “He’s a very, very talented young man. Jake’s an international centre at junior level.

“We wanted to try and find a way – because of his skill set – to get him involved in the game more so he’s played the last six or eight months at full-back in the Under 19s.

“He’s played there first-grade, played on the wing first-grade and now stand-off first-grade. The more positions he plays and understands the better he’ll be. Jake will potentially get another shot at Wigan.”

During Wigan’s last seven games they have lost at relegated Bradford and Widnes Vikings and drawn at a Hull KR side that failed to even make the play-offs.

Still, they have beaten Leeds Rhinos and Warrington in their last two outings, both at DW Stadium, to take second spot. Shaun Wane’s side, who have won two Grand Finals in the last four years, are certainly readied for play-off football.

Huddersfield, who have not lifted a league title since 1962, struggled in that aspect last term. They finished top for the first time in 81 years but the League Leaders’ Shield was their only reward.

Anderson’s team lost their opening play-off at home to Wigan and, though they thrashed Hull FC to reach the semis, they had surrendered their right to ClubCall and were selected by Warrington who duly beat them.

Are Huddersfield – outside of the top four for most of this season and still yet to reach a Grand Final – arriving under the radar?

Anderson nods: “Maybe, maybe. Look at the team we’re playing. We’re going to the champions and they must be red-hot favourites to win. But we’re confident in ourselves and confident whoever we play.”

The fact they have beaten Wigan home and away during the regular rounds underlines that but now, as Huddersfield seek a first championship in more than half-a-century, the stakes are raised.