THE SITUATION in the First Utility Super-8s table could not be more intriguingly poised going into this week’s final round of matches.
Defeats in round six for Leeds Rhinos and Wigan Warriors, combined with victories by Huddersfield Giants and St Helens, mean just one point separates the top four clubs and all have at least a mathematical chance of securing the league leaders’ shield.
Sitting in third, Huddersfield’s fate is not in their own hands, but they will face table-topping Leeds on Friday night knowing that whatever happens elsewhere, a win should ensure at least home advantage in the following week’s semi-final.
Huddersfield would also need Wigan to lose at home to Castleford Tigers – and St Helens to beat Warrington Wolves by less than 64 points – to snatch a second leaders’ shield in three seasons, but winger Aaron Murphy says their main focus is on playing well, after struggling for much of Friday’s 34-20 victory at Hull.
“We just want to win and we’ll take that into the play-off game and, hopefully, the Grand Final,” said Murphy.
“We need to try and build some momentum into the play-off game, whoever we get, so we will be trying to put a performance in this week.
“It’s important to be at home (in the semi-final). You are used to it and you have more fans behind you, but I think the most important thing is we need to put a good performance in.
“It was a bit of a flat performance on Friday and we have to get back to how we’ve been playing for the last few weeks.”
The mood of disappointment after a 14-point win away to Hull illustrates the high standards Huddersfield have set for themselves.
“It was a scrappy game,” Murphy said of the victory at the KC Stadium.
“Our execution and our attack was jittery and a little bit off.
“We’ve got a week to fix it up and I am sure when it’s a more important game we will be better.
“We will have to be, because that performance on Friday wasn’t good enough to win a Grand Final.
“It is an important game this week and hopefully that will spur us on to put a better performance in.
“Winning at Hull is a good achievement and being able to grind out a win when we’re not playing so well is a positive.
“We just need to fix a few things up and if we can, we’ll put a good performance in this week.”
Huddersfield will go into Friday’s game on a run of five straight wins.
“Our form has been good and our attack’s been really crisp,” added Murphy.
“Last week we were a bit off, but I am sure we will fix that up.
“Our defence is good and that’s what wins you Grand Finals, just grinding it out, kicking long, chasing and defending; doing the small things. That’s what we need to do this week.”
Huddersfield have been the quiet achievers this year, going largely unnoticed as most of the attention has focused on Leeds and Wigan.
“That doesn’t bother us, as long as we go on and win it,” Murphy stated.
“We didn’t start the season so well, but we have been picking up the last few weeks.
“It all comes down to the important games coming up now. That’s what’s important, we have to be right for the important game in two weeks’ time (the semi-final).”
With a one-point gap and superior points difference over their rivals, any Leeds victory should be enough for them to clinch first place.
The Headingley outfit have held the upper hand over Giants this season, winning two of their three meetings, with the other being drawn. Although Leeds have lost all three games since their Wembley triumph last month, Murphy knows Huddersfield will underestimate them at their peril.
“They have got great players who can turn it on,” he said. “We aren’t reading anything into their form, we know what a great team they can be.
“We know what to expect and we will be preparing for a tough game.
“They’ve beaten us twice, but that counts for nothing. We just need to improve in a few areas and we’ll look forward to Friday’s game.”
In what was a below-par performance overall last week, Huddersfield’s left-side combination of Murphy and Jake Connor caught the eye, scoring three of their team’s six tries.
Off-loads by Murphy put Connor in twice and the centre returned the favour on another occasion.
“It is coming together,” Murphy said of the new partnership.
“We haven’t played together that much, but we have played the last few weeks together and we are starting to get a bit of an understanding. It is working well now. He is a great player, with great skill and he is a young player with a massive future.
“He is one of the most skilful players I’ve seen and he is going to get better and better. We have got some good young players coming through. Some of them haven’t played yet, but I’ve trained with them and I’ve seen how good they can be.”