FOR all he has never encountered Catalans Dragons in Perpignan before, Huddersfield Giants coach Rick Stone is certainly au fait with rugby league in France – having recalled his playing days with Marseille three decades ago.
The Australian coach takes his side to Stade Gilbert Brutus this evening knowing a fourth win in six games will see them overhaul their hosts and break into Super League’s top eight.
Huddersfield are well-fancied to do so, having produced their season-best performance when vanquishing Warrington Wolves 44-4 on Sunday and having also defeated Catalans 18-10 in Newcastle less than three weeks ago.
Asked about his last trip to France, Stone admitted: “It was a long time ago, that’s for sure.
“I’m showing my age but it was 30 years ago when I played for Marseille in an off-season between September and May in the 1980s.
“It was when rugby league was trying to get back into Marseille.
“Tas Baitieri was running the game back then over there and he got a lot of Newcastle boys to play over in different teams.
“It was good fun, I really enjoyed my time there and I’ll be looking forward to going back there as a coach for the first time on Saturday.”
Catalans – still awaiting a new head coach after Laurent Frayssinous was sacked after they last played Huddersfield – remain inconsistent and lost at Widnes Vikings last weekend in a fiery affair.
Stone, 46, insisted: “It’s always a different scenario for them looking at their results.
“You’ve only got to go back to their tough win against Hull FC to see they’re a different team at home.
“They’re comfortable there and they’re hard to beat there and it shows in their results.”
Traditionally that is true although St Helens, Wakefield and Leeds Rhinos have all won in Perpignan this year while Widnes also forced a draw in the south of France earlier this season.
Furthermore, Huddersfield are crucially getting players back to fitness while Jordan Turner, the former St Helens centre, looks an astute signing after joining from Canberra Raiders and debuting last week.
After tonight’s game, the West Yorkshire club also have four of their next five fixtures at home to offer further hope that they will avoid the ignominy of the Qualifiers, having finished bottom last term.
Stone said: “We’ve got a couple of decent weeks in front of us now and we control our own destiny here. We’ve spoken about it in the last few weeks; it can shape our season a bit and, hopefully, we can stay injury-free and get some continuity and confidence into the team.
“We can build on what we did last week and build as we tick forward.”
Stone is looking forward to seeing more from the ex-Hull FC star Turner.
He added: “Jordan didn’t get through a heap of work but what he did was pretty classy.
“His carries were strong and his defence was good and I’m hoping he can do a bit better and get a bit more involved this week and add something to our team.”