AS he worked out the maths in his head, Jon Sharp could not quite believe it was actually eight years since he left his role as Huddersfield Giants head coach.
He returns to the John Smith’s Stadium tomorrow for the first time since as a rival coach, Championship part-timers Featherstone Rovers his side now as they look to cause a shock in the Qualifiers against their perturbed Super League hosts.
For all it was 2008 when Sharp was relieved of his Huddersfield duties, he undoubtedly left his mark on a club who, until their bizarre fall from grace this term, have been one of the competition’s leading sides in recent times.
The former Great Britain assistant may never have won any trophies during his spell there from 2004 to 2008 but some of what aided successor Nathan Brown, and then Paul Anderson, can be traced back to the 49-year-old’s input.
“I am looking forward to going back and seeing some old friends,” Sharp told The Yorkshire Post.
“It certainly doesn’t seem like eight years ago that I left.
“I have a lot of fond memories from my five years there.
“It was a really enjoyable time where we had a lot of success.
“We had a Challenge Cup semi-final, then we got to the final for the first time in more than 4o years, and we finished fifth, too, making the play-offs for the first time.
“They were really special times for me and the club.
“I put some structures and systems in place that helped produce one of the next head coaches and a minor premiership (League Leaders Shield in 2013).
“Leroy Cudjoe, Jermaine McGillvary… there were a lot of youngsters there that I blooded and gave an opportunity to.
“Luke Robinson’s involved in the coaching staff now, Chris Thorman, too, and I had a great relationship with the chairman. We were very close and it was a good place to work.
“There’s a lot of people and staff still there who were put in place by me all those years ago at Huddersfield so there’s certainly some stability in the club.
“I hope they do improve. Just not on Sunday.”
Thorman is the club’s assistant coach but was captain of Sharp’s Huddersfield side that lost to a brilliant St Helens team in the 2006 Challenge Cup final at Twickenham.
Cudjoe and McGillvary are now established England internationals with the latter earning his Giants debut under Sharp and the former being signed by the then coach.
He prefers not to talk about whether Huddersfield were right to sack him in 2008 after a poor run of results – “It’s done and dusted all that. It’s in the past”, – +but the current Giants side is struggling, too.
For all the stellar quality it beholds, the disappointing Qualifiers loss at Salford last week was a fourth successive defeat, increasing pressure on them to get off the mark tomorrow afternoon as they seek to avoid any chance of relegation.
Furthermore, new coach Rick Stone, the Australian formerly of Newcastle Knights and Fiji, is still awaiting a first win since taking over from the sacked Anderson last month.
But Featherstone, who finished fourth in the Championship, remain rank outsiders and Sharp insisted: “I think it will be a massive challenge because of Huddersfield’s defeat last week.
“They’ll be fired up and very much focused on getting a victory. I look at their squad and there are a lot of good players in there and, as a team, on their day they are as good as anyone in Super League.”
Featherstone began their Qualifiers campaign at home to Leeds Rhinos a week ago when, despite trailing just 16-6 at half-time, they were eventually outclassed 62-6.
“We came up against a great team and gave it our best shot,” recalled Sharp.
“And we did challenge them. Obviously not for long enough but we did do that.
“We had a crack at Leeds in that first half but they just had too much class; they’d have beaten any side in the country on that performance.”
Utility forward Colton Roche is back after a three-game ban for Featherstone but they are hurt by the loss of captain Tim Spears due to an injury.
The home side are without stand-off Danny Brough as he starts a two-game ban.