GETTING the right balance on the bench is always a key element of a Super League coach’s gameplan but, in terms of size alone, few could be bigger than Huddersfield Giants’s.
Simon Woolford had four sizeable forwards as replacements for the opening day 32-12 win at Catalans Dragons and, given the impressive nature of that success, it is no surprise he is set to do the same against Leeds Rhinos on Sunday.
James Gavet, the Samoa prop on debut after joining from Newcastle Knights, weighs in at 17 stone, while former Kiwi second-row Kenny Edwards and Giants veteran Ukuma Ta’ai are not far off that mark, too.
Paul Clough, the industrious former St Helens front-row who completed the bench, looks small in comparison yet is still more than 16 stone.
It is not only the sheer size of these powerful but athletic replacements but their quality, too, that must leave Giants fans excited by the campaign ahead.
However, Woolford revealed there was a good reason why they started the game with the experienced quartet – all aged 30 plus –on the sidelines.
That was their first hit out so they’ll only get better; we’ll probably go the same this week and when they’re ready to play more minutes we’ll add them then.Simon Woolford
“Ukuma, Kenny and James hadn’t played – they’d missed a bit of pre-season – so we just thought it was a bit of a risk starting those guys,” he told The Yorkshire Post.
“We thought they could do a good job for us from the bench. Thankfully, Suaia (Matagi), Matty English and Bruno (Michael Lawrence) did a really good job for us.
“We were able to stretch their minutes out to 25, 30 so we were able to use James, Ukuma and Kenny in short bursts before and just after half-time.
“They did a great job and the longer the game went on Kenny caused some real problems down Catalans’ right edge defence.
“That was their first hit out so they’ll only get better; we’ll probably go the same this week and when they’re ready to play more minutes we’ll add them then.”
With that tactic, of course, there is no replacement back or hooker.
However, since hooker Kruise Leeming left for Leeds Rhinos in the winter, leaving Adam O’Brien as their sole No9, that has not unduly worried Woolford.
“At the moment it’s just what suits us,” he added.
“Paul Clough played 10 minutes at hooker to give Adam O’Brien a break. OB (O’Brien) is going great at the moment. He seems to have lifted a couple of levels since Kruise left.
“He’s a leader; the way he put his body on the line was unbelievable and his service to the halves has been outstanding, so he’s picking the ball up and running every now and then as well.
“He’s doing a great job. His goal is to play 80 but we don’t want to burn him out.
“The original plan was for Ash (Golding) to jump in every now and then coming out of our own end but that went pear-shaped. Cloughy’s come in but we’ve cover in the outside backs as well.”
Golding, the full-back signed from Leeds Rhinos in the off-season, is facing between 12 and 16 weeks recovering from hamstring surgery after being injured in the friendly at Wakefield.
Meanwhile, Huddersfield are forced into at least one change for Sunday’s game as Jake Wardle is out due to a fractured eye socket.
The centre, 21, suffered the injury in Perpignan and will sit out against Leeds but will not know the extent of the damage until he visits a specialist tomorrow.
“We thought he just had a head knock but in the dressing room after the game he blew his nose and his eye blew up so that’s never a good sign,” said Woolford.
“He’s got a bit of a fracture to his eye socket. When that sort of thing happens and your eye explodes, it’s pretty much eye socket damage.
“He looks alright at the moment – it doesn’t look too bad – so hopefully it’s at the minor end of the scale. He definitely won’t play this week but how many weeks he’ll be missing I’m not too sure.”
Fortunately, Huddersfield welcome back fellow centre Jordan Turner from suspension in a like-for-like change.
Such a relatively healthy squad is one of the reasons Giants may consider an offer from Salford Red Devils for Ireland international second-row Ollie Roberts.
Knowing he is down the pecking order at Huddersfield and started the season on dual-registration with Halifax last weekend, Salford want to take the 25-year-old on a season-long loan.
“I haven’t discussed that too much with (Giants managing director) Richard (Thewlis),” said Woolford, who has Aaron Murphy, Joe Wardle, Edwards and Ta’ai as back-row options.
“Salford have asked the question and we’ll just see how our squad is looking over the next couple of weeks.
“Ollie has to be consulted about that, too, and has to agree to do it and want to do it. I read somewhere it is a done deal. I don’t think it is anywhere near a done deal but it’s something we’ll look at in the next couple of weeks.”