Huddersfield braced for double challenge from town of Wigan

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THERE was a time when rugby league games religiously kicked-off Sunday afternoon at 3pm.

Their football counterparts would do so at the same time on Saturdays and everyone knew their place.

Of course, the advent of satellite television and multi-million pound broadcasting deals effectively put an end to all that and now it is safe to say you can watch live football every day of the week.

It is because of those broadcasting demands, however, that a curious event will occur this weekend.

Come three o’clock today, Huddersfield Giants will face Wigan Warriors at John Smith’s Stadium before their footballing co-tenants Huddersfield Town, ironically enough, tackle Wigan Athletic at the same venue tomorrow.

Admittedly, their 3.55pm kick-off time for ITV purposes ruins the perfect symmetry somewhat but it is a strange quirk in the sporting calender nonetheless.

“It’s a big weekend for the town as a whole,” Giants coach Paul Anderson told the Yorkshire Post, his side’s game hurriedly brought forward 24 hours after Town secured their passage through to the FA Cup fifth round on Tuesday night.

“It is a strange one, both us and Town playing Wigan here like this, but we just want to get it off to a good start with a victory on Saturday.

“Some of our lads do have a really keen interest in the football.

“A couple of them, like Danny Brough who takes his son William, normally go watch them on a Saturday and there’s a lot of Huddersfield boys in our side just as there’s plenty of Wiganers in their team too. There’s a lot of interest in what’s happening here but we’re concentrating on improving our own performance.”

To an outsider that would seem difficult given unbeaten Giants headed into this third week as Super League leaders after two emphatic opening wins over 
St Helens and London Broncos.

Those who know Anderson, however, are aware he is a perfectionist.

Winger Luke George certainly realises that. He has been dropped for today’s match and Anderson explained: “Both he and Jermaine McGillvary were told they’d be fortunate to get a game this weekend.

“We let ourselves down in one or two areas against London and I’ve been pretty critical of the performance.

“We took the Broncos for granted and seriously disrespected them at the same time. We have to be better prepared mentally this week.

“Aaron Murphy comes in for George but I’m making changes now after 30-point wins rather than 40-point losses.”

Those sorts of heavy defeats are what Anderson largely encountered after he succeeded Nathan Brown last July but, over the winter, he has stamped his own mark on the club in readiness for 2013.

There are more physical specimens in his ranks, not least Stuart Fielden, the ex-Great Britain prop who today faces his former club for the first time since departing Wigan last autumn.

Anderson continued: “I said at the end of last season when Hull embarrassed us in the play-offs that I was adamant that would not happen again. Our recruitment since has clearly shown we needed to improve in that area – physicality – and the first two rounds have shown we have done that.

“But we’re expecting a really physical match against Wigan.

“They have based their game on that for a while now and have a real brutality about their performance. We have to go match that and better it.”

Wigan, for their part, have been similarly impressive so far, shrugging off criticism that they had lost too many key personnel to challenge this year. They thrashed Salford City Reds and then featured in an epic 17-17 draw with beaten Grand Finalists Warrington Wolves last Friday.

At the helm, Anderson, the former Bradford Bulls prop, could be likened in some way to the equally gruff Wigan coach Shaun Wane, a fearless front-row himself.

Their playing careers briefly crossed while at Leeds in the early 1990s but he laughed: “I was six foot two and Shaun was two foot six.

“I don’t want to disrespect him but we played in different eras.

“He’d come to Leeds at the back end of his career and arrived from a Wigan side that had won everything. He definitely had an aura about him and was a very tough, aggressive, no frills sort of player who did his job.

“I was only a kid at the time – 17 or 18 – and moved on to Halifax at 21 but Shaun has certainly got this Wigan team playing with that same sort of strength I was talking about.

“They’ve been there or thereabouts for the last five or six years now first under Brian Noble, then Michael Maguire and now Shaun Wane too.”

Huddersfield lost the corresponding fixture 32-12 last May, perhaps the first sign that the wheels were going to come off a formidable start to the season which had seen them win ten of their opening dozen fixtures.

Of course, they did just that as Brown’s squad somehow found themselves hurtling in to a horrendous malaise and plummeting straight back down the table.

It is too early to asses this current Giants’ side’s title pedigree but there is a sense that, which ever day they play and whatever time they kick-off, under Anderson there will always now be a grittiness about them previously unseen.