JUST as it is confirmed he is a second-row for the foreseeable future, and in only his second game back after injury, Huddersfield Giants’ Joe Wardle knows, come what may, he is going to be lining directly up against an esteemed Australia international tomorrow.
Catalans Dragons visit John Smith’s Stadium and, therefore, the 24-year-old faces either towering Queenslander David Taylor or the more crafty talents of New South Wales State of Origin star Glenn Stewart.
Regardless of still making his way back from a quad injury that saw him miss the opening four games of the campaign, it is a challenge that whets the appetite for Wardle who, having emerged as a hard-running centre, is evolving into a fine back-row.
It is no coincidence his first appearance of the season on Sunday married with his side’s first win, too, as they overcame Hull KR 38-6 to lift off bottom place.
“It’s a massive challenge for me,” Wardle told The Yorkshire Post.
“You get to test yourself against the best – Australia are the best team in the world – and Dave Taylor and Glenn Stewart have both played with them.
“So, to take them on is only going to do me good and see where I am at this stage in my career.
“We’ll have to be real clued-up on Sunday. Stewart is a smart back-row player who pops up all over the place while Taylor is just a human-wrecking ball so we must be nice and physical on him.
“But you can’t just get worried about them. Catalans have so many others – Krisnan Inu is another who is a massive human being so we have to be physical on him and then (Todd) Carney is that good a player at six that he puts the ball wherever he wants.
“As a team, we’re going to have to be smart and I think we pretty much have to get on top of their pack early doors.
“That will be key and, in the end, fitness might tell, too. Hopefully, we will get another win against them.”
The decision to move Wardle into the pack on a more permanent basis has been a collaborative one.
He filled in there with ease at times last season, his physicality in defence lending itself to that position, and head coach Paul Anderson then discussed the role switch in more depth.
“I got quite a good feel for back-row last year and actually enjoyed playing there,” added Wardle.
“So we had a bit of a talk in pre-season about what he thought and what I thought and we both decided for the team it’d be better if I am in there.
“I’m more than happy to do that; it suits me being in the pack.
“I’m a line runner, I can do a bit of ball-handing on the left side, too, and he (Anderson) has given me a bit of a free role. I do think it helps the squad as well.
“We’ve got young Jakey (Connor) at centre who’s doing a real good job at the minute and it helps him not changing position every week to help make that spot his own. That gets him being consistent there as well and it’s good all around really.”
The Scotland international, who joined Huddersfield from Bradford Bulls for an undisclosed fee when just 19, looked instantly back in the groove against Rovers as he came back with Eorl Crabtree and Kyle Wood to augment the depleted side.
“I was blowing a bit, to be honest,” Wardle conceded.
“But I felt pretty sharp and that’s what I’ve been working on in rehab – being explosive and obviously trying to get some weight on if I’m going to be in the pack.
“It was all good, nice to get a run-out and put 65 minutes under the belt. I owe the rehab guys, our physios Ali McFarland and Oliver Waite, a big rap.
“They have done a real good job with me, Woody, Eorl and I know they have with Chubbs (Craig Huby), too, for when he gets back so they take most of the credit.”
Most people in the game detest the intensive Easter period which kicks in for Huddersfield with Good Friday’s trip to Wakefield followed by an Easter Monday visit from Salford.
However, having waited so long for their first win, Giants – ordinarily top-four regulars – see it now as an opportunity to start quickly ascending the table.
“I think it’s the best scenario we could have had,” said Halifax-born Wardle, who is out of contract at the end of the year.
“We’ve had a bad start with injuries and results but now we’re getting players back and it’s at the right time as well being Easter.
“There’s no better way to get a quick run of games and get some wins under our belt. It’ll fly by and before you know it we could be climbing back up that ladder.”