Eorl Crabtree admits his desire to see out his playing career in Super League is under threat as Huddersfield Giants face the reality of a relegation battle.
The Giants are bottom of Super League, having won just six times all season, and travel to Warrington Wolves today looking to win and garner some momentum ahead of the Qualifiers.
Relegation would be tough for everyone at the John Smith’s Stadium, admits Crabtree, the club’s longest serving player who is in his 16th year with the Giants.
The Huddersfield legend, at 33, knows he only has a “few years” left of battering through opposition defences and the England international accepts they have a battle on their hands to remain in Super League.
“Relegation could happen, we have to face facts,” said Crabtree, who has chalked up over 400 appearances since his debut in 2001, helping the club win promotion to the top flight.
“We put ourselves in this position, now we have to come to the realisation that we are fighting for our Super League survival.
“It will be tough but we got ourselves into trouble so we need to get out of it.
“It’s not nice dropping down a division, you lose a lot of players, and your team will never be the same. The Championship is a different environment, a different world.
“I don’t fancy that, I would like to finish my career in Super League as I don’t think I have got too long left – probably the next few years. I don’t want to drop down and have to battle back up again.
“It’s up to me to do the right thing as a professional, make sure I am as fit as possible, and prepare the best I can.
“I need to improve my own performance, and hope everyone else can improve theirs. Together, we can improve as a team.”
Huddersfield’s fall from grace is stunning, probably only matched by neighbours Leeds Rhinos.
Last season, Leeds won the treble, finishing top of Super League, while the Giants were fourth.
In the Super-8s they won five times – beating Catalans Dragons, Castleford Tigers, Warrington Wolves, St Helens and Hull FC.
Huddersfield were just 80 minutes away from the Grand Final, only to be thwarted by Wigan Warriors 32-8 in the play-off semi-finals.
Fast forward 12 months, and the Giants are bottom and have seen Australian coach Rick Stone come in to replace the axed Paul Anderson.
Crabtree is under no illusions as to how tough the Qualifiers will be. As well as a resurgent Rhinos, there is also Hull KR – who know what is expected after going unbeaten in the Middle-8s last season – and Salford Red Devils, in the bottom four due to their six-point penalty deduction.
Full-time sides Leigh and London Broncos will be joined by two from four Yorkshire teams – Bradford, Featherstone, Batley and Halifax – from the Championship to make up the eight sides, who all start on zero points.
Huddersfield lost to St Helens last weekend – the first game under Stone – and complete the regular season at Warrington today.
Crabtree believes it is crucial the Giants quickly cut out the mistakes, which ultimately cost Anderson his job.
“The bigger picture is it’s not just about Saints, or Warrington this weekend, it’s about getting ourselves playing well and getting in a position where we can go and win games – important games – which do come in a few weeks’ time,” stressed Crabtree.
“That is massive for us, you can’t under-estimate how tough it will be with those teams in the Middle-8s. It’s exciting, because every one of the eight clubs will have something to play for. In the top eight, I don’t think that will be the case.
“The teams in the Championship are at the top of their league, they are brimming with confidence. They have almost an arrogance, they know they can beat teams and shock some people.
“We are at the bottom of the league, thinking we are not playing well, we are playing terribly in fact, losing week-in, week-out, and are in a bad position.
“We know they will come hunting for us and it’s up to us to put in better performances than we have done to win a game of rugby.
“There are two different mindsets there, and that’s worrying when you are at the bottom of Super League and not playing well.
“Leeds have started to pick up form, they have players back, and look like a different animal.
“All the teams around us are playing better than us and it’s something we need to address.
“If we stop silly mistakes, our defence will improve and we will have more energy because we have more ball. It has to start now.”