HUDDERSFIELD Giants head coach Simon Woolford concedes it has been hard to not only lift his squad in readiness for tonight’s Super 8s game at Castleford Tigers but himself as well.
With their hopes of breaking into the top-four and reaching the Super League semi-finals finally extinguished with Friday’s 26-24 loss at Warrington Wolves, they now face three remaining fixtures with their recent principal goal out of reach.
Huddersfield enjoyed a stunning run of 11 wins from 12 games to give themselves a chance but successive defeats – they also lost against Wakefield Trinity – eventually left them short.
Asked if it has been difficult subsequently getting his squad in the right frame of mind for this evening’s trip to Wheldon Road, Australian Woolford admitted: “It is very difficult.
“Not only that but considering we’ve been up for such a long period of time as well.
“We’ve had must-win games for four months now so full credit to the guys for being able to stay at that level for so long.
“I think there’s no doubt that second half against Wakefield a bit of air was let out of the tyres.
“And, while we were competitive at Warrington and could have kicked a couple more goals and done some things better to at least come away with a draw, we were still a fair way below where we were the last three months.
“As coach I feel it too, being up for so long. It’s just the way this competition is structured at the moment; it’s not ideal.
“But the facts of the matter are we still want to finish the season consistently. Whether that means winning games or not I’m not too sure but we need to finish off with some decent performances and make sure we don’t undo all the good work we’ve done these last four months.”
One of the highlights of their impressive run was a 32-18 win at Castleford in July, which came straight after a success against Wigan, opponents who are now both confirmed in the semis.
But Woolford insisted: “They are going to be a different team to what we faced a few weeks ago.
“They obviously have Luke Gale back – he’s a big inclusion – Pete Maut’iti has come across from Leigh while the big back-rowers (Mike McMeeken and Joe Wardle) are back in and they didn’t play against us last time.
“I think they’re hot. They’re peaking at the right end of the year, there’s no doubt about that.
“They’ve been playing some pretty good football and we’ll have to be better than the last time we went there, that’s for sure.”
Furthermore, Huddersfield are still without injured England winger Jermaine McGillvary and captain Leroy Cudjoe, who both missed the defeat at Warrington but could return against Wigan next Thursday.
Alex Mellor is out with concussion, too, but prop Matty English returns, teenage second-row Sam Hewitt is in line for only his second senior appearance and Colton Roche is also brought into the 19-man squad.
“We’re a bit battered and bruised,” added Woolford.
“Three or four weeks ago we were sitting pretty and only had Sebastine (Ikahihifo) and Matty English unavailable.
“Now we seem to be losing players daily. It’s a tough period and we have players who could play if our season was on the line but we’re not going to put them out there now if they’re not 100 per cent fit and we don’t need to.
“Some of the young guys got an opportunity last week and will get another opportunity on Thursday.”
The former Newcastle Knights assistant, who was appointed at the end of April when Giants were bottom, is already looking forward to getting a first full pre-season with the squad ahead of next year.
“I think a lot of them are crying out for it, to be honest,” said Woolford.
“We sat down last week and went through the Giants’ last four seasons and they’ve all told a very similar picture - two wins from 10, three from 13 - their starts to the season haven’t been great.
“They are crying out for a good, tough pre-season and a lot of them need it.
“Some of the injuries and some one of the guys in and out all this year has certainly been a result of a poor pre-season, no doubt.
“We’ll have a good opportunity; there’s no World Cup and everyone will be there for a full pre-season aside from Jerry (McGillvary) who will play a few games for England.
“I’m sure we’ll see the benefits of that in 2019.