Huddersfield v Catalans Dragons: Woolford looking to follow in Brown's footsteps at Giants

IF you had said to Simon Woolford at the start of the year he would now be head coach at Huddersfield Giants he would have considered you 'bloody mad.'

However, the Australian is at the helm and clearly ready to seize his surprise opportunity with his first task potentially taking the West Yorkshire club to within 80 minutes of Wembley.

Woolford arrived just in time to see Friday’s Super League win at Salford – a fourth successive victory – but he formally takes control for his first game as a head coach on Thursday night when they host Catalans Dragons in a Ladbrokes Challenge Cup quarter-final.

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He had spent the last two years working as former Huddersfield coach Nathan Brown’s right-hand man at Newcastle Knights in the NRL but now, at the age of 43, feels ready to make the most of his first main appointment.

Simon Woolford.  Picture Bruce RollinsonSimon Woolford.  Picture Bruce Rollinson
Simon Woolford. Picture Bruce Rollinson

“The last couple of years at the Knights I learned quite a lot about the defensive side of the game – breaking it down and the little intricacies in being a good defensive team,” explained Woolford.

“In getting that knowledge under my belt and experience in the last 18 months, it made me feel I was ready to tackle a head coaching job overseas and as it turned out one came up.

“I must admit if you’d have told me at the start of the year I’d be over here as Huddersfield coach I’d have said you’re bloody mad.

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“But it’s turned out that way and the hierarchy have shown some faith in me so here I am.

“Nathan only had good things to say. He loved Huddersfield. He loved his time here – the club, Huddersfield as a place to live – so he was obviously all positive about the move.

“He gave me a good reference to Richard (Thewlis) and Ken (Davy). He was happy for me and it’s great to be here now.”

The former Canberra Raiders hooker, appointed as Rick Stone’s successor last month, has already been putting his plans in place via Skype for the last few weeks while visa issues delayed his actual arrival in the UK.

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Huddersfield were bottom just recently but the win over Salford saw them rise into the top-eight for the first time this season.

Woolford has worked closely with interim head coach Chris Thorman and fellow Australian Mark Andrews, who operated under Brown at Giants as performance manager and returned for a second spell six weeks ago, to initiate changes.

The results are plain to see with an obvious improvement in their defensive approach but Woolford has also already altered their attacking dynamic.

He moved full-back Jake Mamo to centre, where Jordan Turner instead shifted to stand-off, in turn replacing Jordan Rankin who has returned to No 1.

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Giants already look better balanced and he said: “Once I got the job I had a look at how everyone was playing and who’d be best suited in which positions the way we wanted to play.

“That’s what I thought would work best. It’s important in any team that you keep that spine together and let them play some footy together.

“They’ll naturally improve every week and I think they have done a pretty good job so far.

“There’s no reason to change that at the moment. We’ll stick with it for the short-term.”

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Huddersfield have lost in-form second-row Ukuma Ta’ai for at least six weeks with a medial ligament problem but Aaron Murphy returns from concussion tonight and captain Leroy Cudjoe is ready to go after a nine-month lay-off due to his own knee injury.

Catalans are waiting on final clearance to give ex-Parramatta Eels second-row Kenny Edwards his debut but Woolford is well aware of many of their former NRL players.

“Greg Bird’s still got plenty to offer and Kenny Edwards, if he plays, will be a handful,” he said, about opponents who, though 10th in Super League, have won their last three games including Saturday’s victory over champions Leeds Rhinos.

“Blokes like David Mead are still at the top of their game. He is quite dangerous. And the full-back (Tony Gigot) is a good player plus Remi Casty and Sam Moa.

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“They have quite a strong squad and I am surprised they haven’t been better in the front half of the year.

“They will be tough and we need to start well – a lot better than we did against Salford last week – and that’s a big focus.

“If we can improve on what we’ve done over the last month we feel we can get the job done.”