AFTER THE torturous season he had last year, Michael Lawrence is simply thankful to be out on the field again so imagine his delight at also being named Huddersfield Giants’ captain.
In the absence of injured Leroy Cudjoe, the long-serving back-row has been selected by head coach Rick Stone to lead his hometown club in Thursday’s Super League opener at Hull FC.
For someone born and raised in Huddersfield – rugby league’s birthplace – it is a genuine honour and one Lawrence is relishing.
That Stone also had two previous captains to contemplate –Danny Brough and Ryan Hinchcliffe – certainly shows the sort of high regard he is held in at the John Smith’s Stadium.
Furthermore, after spending most of last season on the sidelines following major knee surgery, it is a perfect start to 2018.
“I only found out myself today,” Lawrence told The Yorkshire Post last night.
There’s been a few hiccups these last couple of years but we’re starting to build now and whatever we want to achieve is in our hands.Huddersfield Giants’ Michael Lawrence
“I know it’s just as Leroy is out injured but it is something I’m really proud of.
“This is my hometown club and I’m proud in myself that I’ve managed to gain such a honour.
“It’s something I’ve always wanted to do so that makes it even better and now I just want to get out there and play.”
Lawrence was named by Stone as part of Huddersfield’s new leadership group last February, offering his support with Scotland captain Brough and the experienced Australian Hinchcliffe to Cudjoe, the England centre who became captain for the first time.
However, less than a week later, in only the Giants’ second game of the season against Salford Red Devils, he suffered a injury which would require knee microfracture surgery.
Lawrence, 27, spent six months out of action and only returned in August for the last six games of the campaign.
By then, Huddersfield were stuck in no man’s land having scraped into the Super 8s but having no real chance of making the top-four.
“It was one of the toughest parts of my career so far,” recalled Lawrence, renowned as one of the hardest-working forwards in Super League.
“That’s both physically and mentally. The amount of work you have to put in to come back from an injury like that means it is very tough.
“Mentally not being able to play is very hard and it is so frustrating especially when the lads were struggling and I couldn’t do anything to help.
“But I’ve come through the other side and it’s true what they say – what doesn’t break you makes you stronger.
“It means I’m looking forward to this kick-off more than ever. Getting injured in the second game last season, missing pretty much all of it, means I’m 100 per cent wanting to get going now.
“My body’s feeling really good.”
Lawrence, who has made more than 200 appearances for Giants since debuting in 2007, says he is ready to bring all his customary power and energy to Huddersfield’s pack after easing his way back in at the end of last term.
“I wasn’t fully fit back then,” he said. “You never are initially after an injury like that but it was good for my confidence and my mind to get back on a field. But now I do feel 100 per cent and my body is really healthy ready to go again.”
The former England Knights player has actually, in fact, led Huddersfield once before.
“It was back in 2013 and we’d won the League Leaders’ Shield the week before,” he recalled.
“We then put a really young side out at Bradford Bulls – I was pretty young myself – and there’s not many still here now from then. I think Kruise Leeming was on the bench for us. Hull on Thursday will be the first time I’ve done this in Super League since.”
Lawrence was still largely a centre back then before a tireless work-rate and powerful frame saw him migrate to the pack.
Ukuma Ta’ai did also play but looking at that teamsheet, there are now plenty of others dotted around elsewhere; Jake Connor (Hull FC) was at full-back, Matty Dawson (St Helens) on a wing while Anthony Mullally (Leeds Rhinos) started at prop.
Lawrence made his mark that season as Huddersfield finished top for the first time in 81 years.
They have, of course, struggled of late having finished bottom in 2016 and needing to fight their way clear of relegation.
However, Lawrence sees no reason why they cannot return to former heights.
“That’s what we’re definitely aiming for,” he said. “Up until 2016 all I’d ever known as a player was being up and around the top-four and challenging for trophies.
“There’s been a few hiccups these last couple of years but we’re starting to build now and whatever we want to achieve is in our hands. If we play to our potential and execute we can finish as high up this table as we like.”
With the industrious Lawrence grafting away, leading from the front, they are certainly now a stronger proposition.