Giants are reinforced ahead of glory push – Crabtree

Eorl Crabtree shares a joke during the Huddersfield Giants media day
Eorl Crabtree shares a joke during the Huddersfield Giants media day
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EORL Crabtree does not look like the sort of guy who ever needs much help.

Standing at 6ft 8ins, weighing around 18 stones, it is clear to see why the Huddersfield Giants prop is one of Super League’s leading forwards and a long-time England international.

However, he concedes he did require a little assistance last season and that is one reason the West Yorkshire club ultimately failed in their bid for a first Championship title in more than 50 years.

As Huddersfield – League Leaders’ Shield winners but play-off semi-final losers in 2013 – prepare for the start of the new campaign at champions Wigan Warriors tonight, Crabtree is happy to see re-enforcements have arrived.

Most notably they come in the shape of formidable ex-Australia prop Antonio Kaufusi, the two-times former Melbourne Storm NRL Grand Finalist who represented Queensland State of Origin and earned a reputation as one of the sport’s biggest hitters.

Crabtree certainly felt that first hand when he was levelled by the then-London Broncos player just 12 months ago.

“We’ve got a bit more experience and I think that’s the big thing,” said Crabtree.

“I was disappointed as last year we lost Luke O’Donnell (to Sydney Roosters) and then Stu Fielden (knee injury/retirement) too.

“I keep looking back at that. We’d lost them both after just nine games and all the experience and physical presence of two big names out of our pack.

“It changed the whole dimension of how we played. I had to play more minutes which I didn’t really want to do; I wanted to give more impact and quality than I did. In the end we just didn’t have enough firepower and I think that was what it boiled down to. When a game was close, coming off the bench we didn’t lift again, whereas now things are a little different.

“Bringing in Kaufusi, he just looks like an animal who wants to kill someone, which helps me out massively. That’s the sort of person I needed alongside me to give me a bit of a breather.

“But Chris Bailey has great skill and is a tough bloke too while Jodie Broughton is a flier. We haven’t brought in too many but the ones we have are quality.”

All three are expected to make their Huddersfield league debuts this evening while there could also be an outing for another giant forward who struggled to make his mark last term.

Anthony Mullally, 22, arrived from Widnes Vikings with a big reputation yet only made nine appearances and spent much of the year on dual-registration with Championship Batley Bulldogs.

But Crabtree added: “He’s been absolutely sensational in training this winter, really had a dig and he deserves a shot at playing front-row. I’m excited at seeing how he goes.”

Principally, though, the 31-year-old realises Wigan – who lifted the Challenge Cup as well as Super League trophy – are now the side they must endeavour to emulate.

The sides start a week early due to Wigan’s involvement in the World Club Challenge against NRL champions Roosters a fortnight tomorrow so Huddersfield’s preparation has been far from ideal.

A friendly against Castleford was washed out meaning Saturday’s scrappy win over Hull Kingston Rovers was their only pre-season hit out. However, Crabtree remains undaunted and said: “They will be in a game, that’s for sure.

“The pack we’ve got should give them a physical challenge.

They are the team everyone aspires to be. They know how to win big games. They won everything of any real importance last year and we need to try and take that mantle from them.

“With them going to Australia hopefully their eyes are off the ball a little bit. But for us it’s a big opportunity to get a big scalp early.”

Huddersfield had no issue achieving that last season, doing the double over Wigan and champions Leeds Rhinos, no less.

It was in the crucial play-off ties where they faltered, however, falling at home to Wigan and then at Warrington too.

“I honestly believe that was probably down to a little bit of experience and winning mentality we’ve not really had,” continued Crabtree. “We’ve players – and a lot of young lads as well – who don’t sometimes have the right attitude in approaching big games.

“And that’s not down to any fault of their own but they’ve probably just not been in that position or environment before.

“When you are used to playing in those big games your preparation doesn’t really change. You go out and just have your normal game. Sometimes for the younger guys it’s quite difficult to do that. I’ve been in that position before where I’ve thought ‘right, I need to rip in here’ and then had an absolute shocker. But, again, with the experience we’ve brought in, people who have won big games and played in finals in Australia, that can only benefit us and they do add a lot more firepower.”

dave.craven@ypn.co.uk