Hull FC v Huddersfield - Adam O’Brien returns as Giants aim to live up to billing

GIVEN the worrying neck injury he suffered last year, Huddersfield Giants’ Adam O’Brien is looking forward to the new season more than most – especially after being openly encouraged to express himself in 2021.

Fit again: Huddersfield Giants hooker Adam O'Brien. Picture: Tony Johnson

The hooker spent two nights in hospital after fracturing his neck playing against Leeds Rhinos last September, ruling him out for the rest of a frustrating campaign.

However, the Giants vice-captain is ready to go when the new season fires up against Hull FC at Emerald Headingley tomorrow.

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“It was only a couple of weeks later when I was sat with my neck brace on that I realised it could have been a lot worse,” O’Brien recalled to The Yorkshire Post.

“I was very lucky in many ways.It repaired well and rehab’ went well, too, and I was back training with the boys just before Christmas.

“I’ve been back in properly since January and I’m looking forward to this season. Last year was a long one for everyone with lockdown and I missed not playing when we did finally get going again (from August).”

The 13-12 loss against Leeds turned out to be coach Simon Woolford’s last in charge after a series of disappointing results.

Assistant Luke Robinson took over on a caretaker basis until the end of the season before Huddersfield recruited Ian Watson from Salford Red Devils in November to start what is hoped will be a new era for the West Yorkshire club.

NEW ERA: Huddersfield Giants' head coach, Ian Watson. Picture: Richard Sellers/PA

Given Watson’s recent feats – guiding Salford to the 2019 Grand Final and then Wembley last season – allied to their significant high-profile signings for 2021, many onlookers are expecting Giants to now make a serious bid.

Fans will get a first look at them tomorrow against Hull and Halifax-born O’Brien, who had been used to playing 80 minutes, has seen his role tweaked by Watson.

“I’ve had quite a few talks with Watto,” said the England Knights international, who joined from Bradford Bulls in 2017.

“And the thing he has said to me is he wants me to run more and be like my old self, rather than when I was playing 80 minutes and just thinking about getting through the game.

“It’s more about expressing myself now and doing what I’m good at. Watto still wants me to stick to the game-plan but, on an individual basis, run with the ball more.

“He’s given me more freedom. I’m looking forward to that.”

The arrival of former Hull FC hooker James Cunningham from Toronto Wolfpack will ease the need for O’Brien to complete a full 80 minutes. With fellow new recruits Josh Jones – against his former side – Joe Greenwood, Jack Cogger, Ricky Leutele and Jack Ashworth also set to feature, it will be interesting to see if Giants can live up to their billing.

They finished seventh last term and O’Brien said: “There is some (talk). With Ian Watson coming in, what he’s brought – I think everyone has learned something from Watto – and the signings we’ve made as well as how we’ve looked in training, I see why. But the first real test of it all is against Hull on Sunday.

“Everyone talks about how good they feel at the start of a season. All I’ll say is we want to do well and we want to be aiming for that top-four. But we just have to take it a week at a time.”

Hull have made far fewer signings although New South Wales State of Origin stand-off Josh Reynolds is stellar.

“Hull are always a big side, not just in their pack but their wingers and centres, too,” said O’Brien.

“Even Jake Connor at full-back is a big sized lad. We’re expecting a real battle up front for the first 15, 20 minutes when we must control their big men.”

The game marks a 300th career appearance for Giants forward Michael Lawrence, all coming with Giants aside from a single appearance each for England Knights and Jamaica.

O’Brien said: “He’s Mr Consistency. To play all but two of those 300 games for one club is amazing. It’s a massive honour for him to reach that number – and hopefully we can now go out and get the win for him.”

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