WHEN the England Knights squad was announced in March, the only representative from Huddersfield Giants was their dynamic hooker Kruise Leeming.
Fast forward six months, however, and it is the club’s other rake Adam O’Brien who has made more of an impact since.
Indeed, on the back of his displays this season, you could argue the former Bradford Bulls player himself would not look out of place when the Knights head out on tour to Papua New Guinea next month.
The combative O’Brien has been a regular starter at Giants, his industrious displays and efficiency out of dummy-half helping underpin their turnaround in fortunes since Australian Simon Woolford took charge in May.
Granted, they host second-placed Wigan Warriors tonight having lost their last three Super 8s games and hopes of a semi-final berth long since eradicated.
But the Halifax-born O’Brien told The Yorkshire Post: “Personally, it has been a great season.
We’ve let ourselves down the last few weeks but hopefully we can finish off on a high in these last couple of games now starting against Wigan.Adam O’Brien
“I’ve only missed one game all year so that’s an achievement for me pushing forward and there’s that competition between me and Kruise at the moment to get that nine shirt, too.
“I know he’s coming off the bench at the moment – and I don’t know if that’s Simon’s plan for the future – but I’ll keep performing week in week out doing my job for the team.
“When I joined from Bradford last year I only came in in the January so was only four weeks off the start of the season. I missed the start of the year and got my go halfway through then until the back end but having a full pre-season this time around has helped me massively.
“It set a good base and I have been enjoying my footy. With Simon coming in also, he played nine as well and he has little bits with structure that has helped me and the team in the last four or five months.
“We’ve let ourselves down the last few weeks but hopefully we can finish off on a high in these last couple of games now starting against Wigan.”
O’Brien has certainly improved further under Woolford, the 43-year-old former Canberra Raiders hooker, and relished working with the ex-Newcastle Knights assistant coach.
He said: “There’s been odd times during training when he’s got in at nine and done a little bit himself.
“But normally he sits on his ball by the posts and just watches. If he doesn’t like something he’ll stop training, interrupt and say his part.
“He only says something when it’s needed. That’s what’s good about him – he’s clear and you know where you stand.”
The Giants player is, of course, the younger brother of former Bradford City left-back Luke O’Brien.
He admits being saddened to witness the way the Bantams have fallen in recent times – the League One strugglers are currently onto their fourth different manager of 2018.
“It’s not the nicest thing to see,” said O’Brien, whose sibling played there between 2007-2012 but, after spells with Exeter, Oxford United and Gateshead and despite still being only 30, now plays amateur football.
“I used to support and watch them week in week out when Luke was there. I’d always have a look at the scores and write-ups so it’s not good to see City as they are now.
“Luke’s now playing for a pub team – Shelf United. He had a year at Thackley but lost interest and so plays with his mates on a Friday or Saturday and has a few beers instead.
“He needed to concentrate on work. Money-wise football wasn’t helping so he went for a stable job while still getting enjoyment out of the game with his friends.”
O’Brien has another important game this weekend as coach of Halifax amateur side King Cross Park as they face West Hull in the Yorkshire League Division Two Grand Final.
He said: “I do enjoy it. I’ve brought a bit of what Simon’s done at Giants although I try and keep it simple as you don’t get the same buy-in from amateur lads.
“But we’ve won the League Leaders and now hopefully we can push on and get two trophies. I’ll probably go back there when I’m finished and maybe play the odd game if needed.
“Or I might even go play footy with my brother if he’s still cracking around when I’m retired.”
Meanwhile, Huddersfield’s Australian forward Ryan Hinchcliffe will defy a jaw injury to make his final appearance at the John Smith’s Stadium tonight.
The former Melbourne Storm hooker, who turns 34 next month, is hanging up his boots at the end of the season, which for the Giants will come in Perpignan on Saturday week.
Before then, Hinchcliffe will once more put himself through the pain barrier to attempt to halt Huddersfield’s three-match losing run against a Wigan side seeking to secure a home semi-final.
“He’s had a sore jaw for a couple of weeks and we got him in for a scan,” said Woolford. “Originally they said his jaw was broken but another specialist said there was no crack there, it’s just bruising.
“So Hinchy is fine. He’s one of the tough ones in the team and he’s played injured plenty of times before. There’s no risk, it’s a bit of bruising and he’s coped with it for a few weeks now.
“It will take a fair bit for Hinchy to miss his last couple of games.”
Wigan suffered a 20-12 defeat at Huddersfield two months ago but are the only team with a 100 per cent record in the Super 8s and are now seen by many as the favourites for the title.