Huddersfield Giants v Salford Red Devils: Ian Watson raises stakes ahead of Magic Weekend showdown
Whereas the Giants are sitting comfortably in the top four, Salford are outside the play-off positions looking in with 10 rounds remaining.
The Red Devils are gaining momentum thanks to impressive wins over Wakefield Trinity and Warrington Wolves, leaving Paul Rowley’s side two points adrift of the top six ahead of tomorrow’s date with Huddersfield in Newcastle.
Salford’s motivation is clear but Watson was quick to point out that there is plenty at stake for the Giants as they look to turn a promising season into a successful one.
“I’ve seen some quotes this week where Salford are labelling it as their cup final,” said Watson, who led the Red Devils to two major finals during his time in charge.
“For the players that don’t usually get to experience it, they want to savour it and use it as a cup final mentality.
“But we’ve got a hell of a lot to play for this year. While Magic is a big occasion and everyone looks forward to it as a special event on the calendar, we’ve got to treat it as another step to where we want to get to.”
Salford are not short of belief after running in 19 tries in their last two games, meaning they have now scored as many points as Huddersfield this season.
Watson is confident the Giants will be a tougher nut to crack.
“After the last couple of weeks, you’d think they’d be fairly confident in their performances and the way they’ve played,” he said.
“We’ve had a little look at that and know what to expect - but they’ve not played us in those last two weeks so we’ll see how it unfolds.”
Huddersfield suffered their first defeat in seven games last time out after producing a below-par performance at Castleford Tigers.
The Giants remain five points clear of fifth-placed Castleford but Watson has stressed the importance of bouncing back quickly.
“You don’t want to be backing up losses,” he said.
“Once you’ve lost a game, that’s got to sting and hurt.
“You’ve got to make sure you respond on the back of that and get a result. All the good teams do that.”
Huddersfield have received a major boost with the return to fitness of half-back Theo Fages, who has missed the last six games with a calf injury.
“Theo coming back in and giving us some experience in managing games is something we need at this point,” said Watson.
“We’ve been found wanting a little bit in that area in the last couple of games, so he’s a great addition for us.”
Watson is set to be forced into changes at St James’ Park with several players struggling to shake off knocks.
But he is viewing it as another opportunity to showcase Huddersfield’s depth.
“We’re confident in the squad that we have,” he said.
“It’s a great squad and we’ve got players ready to play. It’s one person’s loss and another person’s opportunity.
“Over the season, the guys have been really good at that. When they’ve been called upon they’ve stepped up and performed at a really high level.
“We need that again this weekend at Magic.”