Huddersfield Giants and Wakefield Trinity will each go into tonight’s final game of the regular Betfred Super League season with their place in the competition next year already assured.
That could make it a dead rubber, but Giants’ England winger Jermaine McGillvary and Tinirau Arona, the Cook Island international now in his third season with Wakefield, insist there are still things to be achieved.
Giants’ dash into the Super-8s has been arguably the most remarkable achievement of the season so far. They seemed doomed to the Qualifiers and a battle for top-flight survival when they were bottom of the table at the end of April, five points adrift of eighth place.
Last week’s 32-18 victory at Castleford Tigers secured their place in the Super-8s with a game to spare and completed a staggering transformation under new coach Simon Woolford.
With Huddersfield eight points adrift of the top four the semi-finals look out of reach, but McGillvary is adamant Giants will not be coasting through their remaining games.
“The target is to keep doing what we’re doing,” he stressed.
“It would be so wrong of us to take our foot off the gas now after the last two months we’ve had.
“It has been amazing, it has really changed our season around. Everyone’s high on confidence and there’s a lot of teams who have put big scores on us and dominant performances so it would be good, now we are in better shape as a squad, to see what we can do against those teams this time round.
“I’m not saying we’re going to win, but we can do a lot better than what we’ve tossed up before.
“We offered the fans absolutely nothing for the first couple of months, losing all those games.
“To be fair the majority stuck with us and they’ve got the rewards now, but it’s not enough – and it’s not enough for us.
“We want to get as high up the table as we can, that’s why we play.
“We play to win.
“Last season I thought we took our foot off the gas and didn’t do too well when we got into the eights, but this time it feels different and hopefully we can do better.”
Victory tonight would cap what has been a memorable few days for McGillvary.
His hat-trick was the difference between the sides in the win at Castleford and he then retained his place in England’s elite performance squad ahead of this autumn’s Test series against New Zealand.
Though now an England veteran, McGillvary stressed the thrill has never worn off.
“Any time my name gets mentioned with the England squad, whether that’s playing or just being part of the squad, it is amazing,” he said.
“It is the pinnacle of my career playing for my country.
“The biggest game I’ve ever played in was [last year’s] World Cup final in Australia and the second was playing for my country for the first time.
“I’ve got so many good memories.
“As a rugby league player you don’t get to wear that top many times and many great players have never got to wear it.
“I’ve been fortunate to do it 13 times so far and I am really enjoying being involved.”
While Huddersfield’s transformation under Woolford has grabbed the headlines, Trinity have also turned their season around after a run of seven defeats in eight games, in March and April, threatened to drag them into the Qualifiers.
Arona, who is out of contract this autumn and has yet to agree a new deal with Wakefield, has been one of their most consistent performers and, like McGillvary, said the challenge now is to prevent the final quarter of the season becoming a damp squib.
Trinity sealed their top-eight spot with a record 72-10 humiliation of Hull last week and Arona said: “The biggest challenge for us now is stepping up another gear.
“The Giants are playing well, we’ve played them three times this year so far and they are up two-one.
“It is definitely a big challenge, they have won eight of their last nine and they won’t want to take their foot off the pedal.
“We have to make sure we’re well prepared and we come out firing.”
Of his own future, he added: “It’s my third year here and I believe the last few years we have built something at this club.
“Just before I arrived they played in the million pound game so to be looking up the table and heading in the right direction, I like to say I’ve played a bit of a part in that.
“I want to be here when the club wins.”