IN his own words, Paul Anderson admits Huddersfield Giants once only “paid lip service” to its youth development policy.
The emphasis now, though, has to be on the word “once.”
Six homegrown players featured against Wigan Warriors on Sunday, and that number could rise to seven for tomorrow’s game with Warrington Wolves.
When Anderson first arrived at the Fartowners as an assistant in 2006, such numbers would have been laughable.
Investing at junior level was the least of their concerns and, for all they have had successes, Anderson quotes current head of youth performance Andy Kelly who says “there’s either a planned process or a happy accident.”
Those successes were mainly due to the latter.
Some of Huddersfield’s most promising local schoolboy talent would be snapped up by other more accommodating Super League clubs and, instead, the club would maybe go out and buy rival clubs’ better Academy products later down the line when 18 or 19. One example is Joe Wardle, the centre raised in Halifax who Giants signed from Bradford Bulls for an undisclosed fee when just 19 in 2010.
Obviously, that was clearly a good investment as Wardle is now a mainstay of Huddersfield’s first team and one of the best players in the competition.
But it was due to their lack of youngsters coming through that they probably had to look elsewhere.
That certainly isn’t the case now. Giants have revamped their academy and scholarship mentality in recent years, making them more attractive to aspiring teenagers, not only on the pitch but off it with their education link-ups too and providing new training facilities and guidance.
Obviously, that is no different to many top-flight clubs but Huddersfield are ones who had some ground to make up.
They are looking further afield, too; 20-year-old Josh Johnson and 21-year-old Nathan Mason came through the ranks having arrived from Oldham amateurs Waterhead, an area that Leeds Rhinos and Wigan Warriors may traditionally have dominated.
Nineteen-year-old hooker Kruise Leeming has really impressed this term following Shaun Lunt’s exit to Hull KR, the teenager improving with each game and recently being rewarded with a new deal.
Similarly, Jake Connor, a 19-year-old who hails from the same Halifax amateurs Ovenden as Wardle, has shown his obvious talent at times.
And, of course, it was with great pride that Anderson witnessed another 19-year-old, Jared Simpson, make such a superb try-scoring man-of-the-match performance on his debut against Wigan at the weekend as well.
The elusive full-back delivered as mature a performance as you could hope for in a first senior game and he is still only part-time so his development will improve further once he enters full-time.
The club will still look elsewhere for youngsters – they raided Bradford again to sign Oli Roberts last autumn – when they see fit but no longer do they have to rely on Ken Davy’s cheque book to get them out of trouble.
The licensing process had its critics but, as Giants have shown, making clubs take their academy policies seriously is one of its greater legacies.
At the other end of the scale, congratulations to Huddersfield captain Danny Brough – surely one of the club’s best ever signings – as he prepares for his 400th career game tomorrow.