THERE will be much intrigue around the back-row battle in tonight’s televised game as Huddersfield Giants travel to Wigan Warriors and not just because of the obvious reason.
That glaring one is Larne Patrick, the barnstorming Huddersfield forward who has joined this evening’s opponents on a season-long loan, facing Jack Hughes, the England Knights player who moved in the same deal in the opposition direction.
There will be ample chance there to see which of the two clubs looks to have got the better side of that piece of business.
However, furthermore, there is a fascinating tussle between Brett Ferres, the Giants vice-captain, and Joel Tomkins, the second-row who returned to Wigan from Saracens last June and duly took the former’s place in the England starting line-up at the Four Nations.
Many were surprised by national coach Steve McNamara’s decision – Ferres had been a revelation at the 2013 World Cup and Tomkins had only played seven league games back in league before being selected for all three games Down Under.
Another Wigan second-row Liam Farrell started alongside him in each and a third – John Bateman – is being tipped to break into the squad soon.
“I did play with England last year but didn’t really get a shot at where I wanted to play,” Ferres told The Yorkshire Post, having come off the bench each time and even operated at hooker.
“I played a few different roles but not the one I was after.
“There is a bit of a battle on there. I want to be back-row for Huddersfield and England so any opportunities that come up to show I can do that I know I have to take them.”
With regards to Patrick, the explosive Wales international, Ferres said: “I was away with England when that move was announced so I don’t know the ins and outs of it.
“But it’s a good move for Huddersfield as well as Wigan as Larne got what he wanted and so did Jack Hughes.
“He’s a good young player who has slotted in really well here, can play 80 minutes and wants to get a good run of form going.
“I like Larne, too. He’s a good player and very good at what he does. But the problem with us last year with Larne and a few others was that we couldn’t get enough time out of them; we were carrying four players who could only play 10 or 15 minutes at a time and that doesn’t work with your rotations.
“The way we’ve gone this year is with a more mobile pack who can put more time in.”
Of course, Sunday’s opening result did not reap immediate dividends. Huddersfield, who finished just a point behind champions St Helens last season, lost 19-0 at home to Hull FC.
It had been mentioned that the Giants had played just one friendly beforehand and that may have been a contributory factor to their slovenly start.
Ferres, 28, said: “It was not an excuse coming from us, but you could see we looked rusty.
“We didn’t look like a team and that was the most disappointing thing – we’re quite a solid group and most of us have played together for a few years now.
“But there was no cohesion and we looked like a side that had just been put together. We were stuttered in what we were doing and didn’t look like we were connected. There was no flow like normal. We can fix that up pretty quickly, though. We’ve mainly just looked at ourselves this week and not concentrated too much on Wigan.”
Huddersfield head coach Paul Anderson is expected to stick largely with the same squad – there may be a slight tinker – and give them a chance to atone.
They will also be looking to put right the wrongs of their last appearance at Wigan, an embarrassing 57-4 play-off loss in September.
“It was a tough one at the time,” admitted Ferres.
“It’s not long ago in terms of games but it is actually five months ago now and, during that time and pre-season, we have put last year to bed.
“The one that alarms us most is last week against Hull, but we know we can turn our performance around come Friday and, if we do that, the result will come.”
And maybe McNamara, no doubt watching back in Sydney, will have something extra to think about, too.