DEMANDING Huddersfield Giants head coach Paul Anderson has challenged his side to demonstrate their Grand Final credentials tonight.
They head to Wigan Warriors in the opening round of the new-fangled Super 8s.
Huddersfield currently sit fourth in Super League as the top eight mini-division gets underway.
They have to be still in the leading quartet, too, after the next seven rounds to secure a semi-final slot and a stab at reaching a maiden Old Trafford Grand Final.
Huddersfield have long suffered at this stage of the season, falling short when it matters most, so Anderson is keen for this current side to prove they have learned from previous mistakes when they take on third-placed Wigan.
“We’re aware we are a consistent top-four, top-five team,” he said.
“Now we have to transfer that consistency and translate it into the big games and get wins in the big games – the semi-finals and finals.
“Ultimately, you can look at this as another seven league games, or seven semi-finals or see it as winning nine games to win the comp’.
“But we should be within our rights now to expect the temperature to go up a bit. Everyone’s been talking about getting into the top eight for 23 rounds but we’ve been talking about getting in the four.
“Wigan, Saints and Leeds have been there since the start – it’s not been an aspect for them – but it’s been our focus since day one and that’s not changed.
“Castleford are chasing us from fifth and they will be thinking a semi-final spot is within their grasp.
“But we know if we can win the first two or three of these Super 8s, starting at Wigan, we’re well on our way.”
The top two gain home semi-final ties so Huddersfield are also mindful they must start well tonight given they are already four points adrift of St Helens in second place.
Victory would see them close to within just one point of Wigan but the West Yorkshire club have endured defeats against them both times they have met this term.
Anderson added: “We have to go there with a good mentality and be physical as that’s what Wigan will be at home.
“I know Waney (coach Shaun Wane) quite well and he’ll be pumping them right up for this.
“We have to match if not better that physicality Wigan bring – and the stakes have gone up.”
One player who will undoubtedly bring some of that requisite physicality is Jack Hughes, the Huddersfield second-row who is on a season-long loan from Wigan.
The 23-year-old has thrived on regular game-time with the Fartowners, something that did not occur with his home-town club.
“I had chances (at Wigan) but didn’t get consecutive chances,” he said, 23 of his 24 appearances with Huddersfield this term having come in the starting line-up.
“I’d play a game or two then miss a couple of weeks or get 20 minutes off the bench.
“But I’ve played every week here and that’s helped me out as if I have a bad week I can put it right the next.
“At Wigan, I’d find a bit of form then if I dipped I’d just be straight out of the team.
“Also I feel a lot fitter and know that I can play 80 minutes every week whereas at Wigan I didn’t do it often, so when I was asked to it played on my mind.”
Prolific winger Dom Manfredi, meanwhile, is Hughes’s biggest friend at Wigan.
“Dom only lives a couple of minutes from me so he’s always at my house and I’m always at his,” he said.
“I’ll probably meet up with him straight after the game.
“We often go out and take the dogs for a walk, but we’ll be looking to give it to each other on Thursday night.
“It still feels a bit weird facing Wigan. When I did it at the start of the season I was a bit nervous and didn’t know how I’d feel so I’m looking forward to this now a lot more. Hopefully, I’ll be more relaxed.”