World Cup star Jermaine McGillvary is set for his first appearance of the new Super League season after recovering from injury.
The Huddersfield Giants winger was a huge success at last year’s rugby league World Cup, scoring seven tries for England before losing out to Australia in the final in December.
Since returning from Down Under – after the Kangaroos won 6-0 in Brisbane – the 29-year-old has missed the start of Huddersfield’s Super League campaign with a knee injury. McGillvary was forced to watch from the sidelines as the Giants were swept aside 38-12 at Hull FC, before bouncing back to beat Warrington Wolves 20-6 a fortnight ago.
After a weekend off, due to the World Club Challenge last week, McGillvary is set to feature tonight with the visit of St Helens to the John Smith’s Stadium.
“I’m pretty sure Jerry (McGillvary) will play this week,” said Giants head coach Rick Stone.
“He’s missed out on the last two weeks, he’s been pretty close, to be honest, but a bit of soreness in his knees has kept him out.
“We wanted to make sure that he was 100 per cent before we got his 2018 campaign underway.
“It’s never great to have a week off after you’ve had a good win, you want to keep a bit of momentum, but for the boys that we’re waiting on to get back on the field, it’s been extra beneficial for us and, hopefully, we’ll have a few more available for this week.
“Adam Walne had a bit of a calf strain in the first and second week, so he’ll be back this week as well.”
Tonight comes too soon for Shannon Wakeman and Michael Lawrence (both hamstring injuries).
But it is the return of McGillvary – with over 200 Giants appearances and 500 points in the bag from a decade with the claret and gold – which will help lift Huddersfield’s spirits.
“I think it’s a big lift to have Jerry back,” admitted Stone.
“After what he did in the World Cup, everyone is sort of looking at him to make his first appearance for the Giants this year.
“I suppose there is a bit of expectation on Jerry at the moment because even though he did great at the World Cup, he’d already been doing that for the Giants most of the year and for the time I’ve been here he’s been performing as such.
“He hasn’t played for a while, early December since the final.
“It’s been a couple of months and the extra week’s training wouldn’t hurt him as it put a few more miles in his legs to make sure he stays fit and robust for the rest of the year.
“It’s been a good recharge for Jerry, getting back with the boys for a few weeks training, and I know it’s been positive for the group.
“Jerry is feeling a bit more comfortable in himself about getting out there and playing this week.”
Tonight, Huddersfield face a Saints team who have impressed with back-to-back victories in 2018.
They thrashed last year’s Grand Final runners-up Castleford Tigers 46-6 before squeezing out a 21-12 win in France at Catalans Dragons.
Stone is expecting a tough test for Huddersfield this evening.
“They did it two different ways in their first two weeks,” he said.
“They were pretty spectacular in their first game against Castleford, some of the structure and Ben Barba’s influence was massive – and again in the second game but obviously not quite as prominent.
“They had a bloke sent off in the second game and defensively they had to play a bit tougher.
“Any time you’re going to Catalans it’s a challenge, to get those points away from home is a tough one, so they’ve had two good wins and a good week off so, no doubt, that would have helped.
“They had a couple of players with World Cup commitments, like us, so for them to get another couple of weeks is, I would have thought, beneficial for them,” said Stone.
Matty Lees has been drafted into the Saints squad, replacing Morgan Knowles, who starts a four-match suspension.
The key for Stone is making Huddersfield hard to score against.
“Defensively, we wanted to show the sort of resolve that I think you need to be successful in the game,” he said.
“Any decent team bases their game around a good defensive performance and for us against Warrington, even though the conditions didn’t help, it was tricky.
“It was a tough night but we had some good resolve and we scrambled really well for kicks and we turned up in our goal-line defence.
“That was the most pleasing part and we would like to see ourselves back up that defensive display this week against St Helens as we know that we are going to have be good defensively.
“For us, we want to work on how we can control the ball and control the game as well. They are the two keys.
“It’s about making opposition teams beat you rather than beating yourself.
“That’ll hold us in good stead and make us competitive in each game we play”