Huddersfield Giants at crossroads as they weigh up Ian Watson future - James O'Brien comment

In the 28 seasons of Super League, only four clubs have got their hands on the trophy.

St Helens are 10-time champions and Leeds Rhinos have won the Grand Final on eight occasions, while Wigan Warriors claimed a sixth title last year.

Those three clubs have dominated since the demise of Bradford Bulls, who won the last of their four titles in 2005 before suffering relegation nine years later.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Old Trafford has been a graveyard for challengers with Warrington Wolves, Catalans Dragons, Hull FC, Castleford Tigers and Salford Red Devils all falling at the final hurdle.

From their elite set-ups and productive youth systems to their aura, Saints, Wigan and Leeds have proved unbeatable at the Theatre of Dreams – unless, of course, they face each other.

For the rest, history has shown that it is difficult to reach Old Trafford, let alone win there.

Huddersfield Giants have flirted with the main prize in the summer era but, like so many of their rivals, faltered when it mattered.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The Giants won the League Leaders' Shield in 2013 – one of five top-four finishes in seven years – only to fall at the semi-final stage of the play-offs.

Huddersfield are set to miss out on the play-offs again. (Photo: Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com)Huddersfield are set to miss out on the play-offs again. (Photo: Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com)
Huddersfield are set to miss out on the play-offs again. (Photo: Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com)

With every passing year, it appears Huddersfield's best chance of breaking the monopoly of the big three has gone.

The Giants have qualified for the play-offs just once in eight years but that 2022 season under Ian Watson is looking very much like a one-off.

Virtually unbeatable at home, Watson's side were a well-oiled machine with a happy knack of grinding teams into submission.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

It was not pretty at times but Huddersfield knew what they were good at and more often than not nailed Watson's game plan.

Ian Watson looks dejected after his side's 48-0 loss to Warrington. (Photo: Olly Hassell/SWpix.com)Ian Watson looks dejected after his side's 48-0 loss to Warrington. (Photo: Olly Hassell/SWpix.com)
Ian Watson looks dejected after his side's 48-0 loss to Warrington. (Photo: Olly Hassell/SWpix.com)

The Giants recovered from the agony of their Challenge Cup final defeat by Wigan to claim third spot, only to lose 28-0 to Salford on home soil in the first week of the play-offs.

Although there are a myriad of factors at play, Huddersfield have not recovered from that chastening defeat.

The Giants assembled a squad for 2023 that, on paper, had the potential to take the next step.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Indeed, the club's long-serving chairman Ken Davy went as far as labelling it "undoubtedly the strongest squad I've seen during my time".

Jake Connor has struggled to make a positive impact on his return to Huddersfield. (Photo: Olly Hassell/SWpix.com)Jake Connor has struggled to make a positive impact on his return to Huddersfield. (Photo: Olly Hassell/SWpix.com)
Jake Connor has struggled to make a positive impact on his return to Huddersfield. (Photo: Olly Hassell/SWpix.com)

However, Ricky Leutele and Danny Levi in particular left two huge holes that could not be filled as the Giants finished ninth.

For all the talk of Huddersfield's lack of creativity in 2022, the signing of Jake Connor must be questioned on the evidence of the past 18 months.

Connor underwent an operation on a major knee injury shortly before the move and has been a shadow of the player who topped Super League's assists chart in his final season at Hull since belatedly making his second debut for the Giants.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

With Tui Lolohea, Theo Fages, Oliver Russell and Will Pryce already at the club, Connor was a luxury that Huddersfield could have lived without.

While the full-back's patchy form has been there for all to see, his effect on the dressing room harmony can only be measured by those inside the four walls.

Connor's petulant yellow card in this year's Challenge Cup semi-final hammering by Warrington appeared to be the final straw for Watson, although he was brought in from the cold for last week's Super League rematch against the Wolves.

Esan Marsters will lead Huddersfield at the end of the year. (Photo: Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com)Esan Marsters will lead Huddersfield at the end of the year. (Photo: Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com)
Esan Marsters will lead Huddersfield at the end of the year. (Photo: Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com)

That latest humiliation showed the problems at Huddersfield extend beyond Connor.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Watson pointed to injuries and illness in the camp but the manner of an eighth defeat in nine games was a cause for concern.

With the exception of a lucky few, every club could spin a hard luck tale.

Fans expect a certain level of commitment regardless of circumstances – and the Huddersfield supporters watching on at Warrington were left feeling short-changed.

The performance prompted an apology from Davy but there is no suggestion that Watson will pay the price with his job.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Indeed, it is becoming increasingly likely that the former Salford boss will remain in charge for the rest of the year.

With Huddersfield's season as good as over, there is some merit to being patient in the hope of a revival.

However, there is a sense that it may be best for both parties to go their separate ways.

Watson has cut an increasingly weary figure in recent weeks, to the point where he said Huddersfield's poor run of form was "killing" him.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

More than once Watson has lamented the lack of appreciation for a coach's mental health, which underlines how much he is struggling.

Given the intensifying pressure from the supporters, it feels almost cruel for the Giants to continue as they are.

The credit Watson built up in 2022 has long since run out with a frustrated fanbase.

It is hard to see any way back for Watson but the big question is: where do Huddersfield go from here?

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The Giants are around where they should be in the historical pecking order; indeed, Leeds are only one place higher in seventh.

As Watson has shown, Huddersfield can threaten for a season but they are not set up to be perennial contenders, as evidenced by the cycle of losing key players.

Unless they can convince players like Luke Yates and Esan Marsters to commit to a long-term project, a top-six finish will be their ceiling.

Unless they find a way to boost their IMG score, the Giants could even find themselves in the Championship.

Whether Huddersfield can come again remains to be seen, with or without Watson.

Comment Guidelines

National World encourages reader discussion on our stories. User feedback, insights and back-and-forth exchanges add a rich layer of context to reporting. Please review our Community Guidelines before commenting.