Tonight will arguably be the most important game of the year for the two teams at the John Smith's, as Huddersfield and Catalans attempt to get one step closer to that top 8 finish.
The Giants sit just one point ahead of the Dragons, but with the latter having a game in hand. A win from the French side will see them leapfrog into eighth, with the opportunity to extend their lead next week against out-of-form Leeds. If the Giants can take home the two points, however, it will see them three points clear, putting their top 8 status entirely in their own hands.
Doing so will secure 2019 Super League status, without the threat of the Middle 8s. When the Giants fell to the qualifiers in 2016, we lost out on several potential recruitment targets, who went elsewhere in favour of Super League safety. With so many players out of contract this year, the top 8 is more important than ever. And a win tonight will be a huge step towards achieving that goal.
And of course, the biggest obstacle comes against a team who, controversially, have beaten the Giants twice this year. After losing key players in the opening minutes of our trip to Perpignan, the Giants fought valiantly, yet ultimately fell short.
The build up to the next game – only two weeks ago - had all the significance you could have asked for. After having lost 8 on the bounce, the Giants had turned things around and went undefeated in May, and were only 80 minutes from a semi final spot. On top of that, it was our new coach's first game in charge, and the return of our homegrown captain, his first game in 9 months. It was all set to be a huge moment for the club, but sadly, the visit of the Dragons was a talking point for all the wrong reasons. With some nasty tackles, acting masterclasses and downright bizarre decisions, the Giants crashed out of the cup with a lacklustre performance.
After a much stronger performance at Leeds, while they might not want to admit it, you'd have to imagine there's only one word on the lips of Simon Woolford and his men. Revenge.
Or, you know, vengeance, if you want to get French with it
Two changes for the Giants this week, as Clough and Senior miss out, replaced by Roberts and Ferguson. I'd expect Ikahihifo to take Clough's place in the starting line-up, Smith can play prop, loose forward and back rower and has been great off the bench, so we'd be wise to keep our options open and leave him as an interchange.
We find ourselves with two additional back rowers this week, so you'd expect one of them to take the spare spot on the bench. You know what they say about changing a winning side, so it's possible Woolford will leave it there, but with Murphy still relatively new to the pack, it wouldn't be a surprise if he moved back to centre or wing to make way for the second returning back rower. If that happens, expect Roberts to start with Fergie on the bench.
Les Dracs make two changes from the squad that travelled to the John Smiths two weeks ago, with prop Antoni Maria and former Giant Jodie Broughton absent. Coming into the 19-man squad are Jason Baitieri and Vincent Duport. Samisoni Langi is also in the squad, however after being named for the past 3 weeks without being selected, it's unclear if he'll make an appearance.
This leaves Catalans with only one natural winger in Lewis Tierney. Fouad Yaha - who replaced Broughton in the Widnes game last week - misses out to suspension. Williame has played on the wing before, and in fact did so after Broughton left the field two weeks ago, so I'd expect him back in this role, leaving Duport and Mead in the centres and Baitieri on the bench.
Where will the game be won?
The answer to this question comes down to how cynical you want to be.
Without the TV cameras there'll hopefully be fewer theatrics than last time, but Catalans will still look to slow things down and see what they can get away with. If the officials allow it, it's on us to not rise to it and control the game on our own terms
If, however, this side of the game isn't a significant factor, then it's all going to come down to defence. The two sides look fairly similar in attack this year, with both scoring the same amount of tries and points, but the Giants' defensive record is looking much worse over the course of the season, mainly off the back of two huge losses to Wigan and Saints.
Last week, however, our defence was fantastic, particularly towards the end of the game as Leeds tried to grab a late winner. We need to keep this form and our key defensive men (Hinchcliffe, O'Brien, Smith, Mellor) will need to be in top form with the ever-reliable Clough not making an appearance. This will be made easier with the absence of Yaha and Broughton, who make up two of Catalans' three top scorers this season. Without these proven finishers, the Dragons may struggle to break down the line. It's then onto the Giants to get the tries and make it a night to remember. The key to doing this is set completion (we only managed around 70% completion in the cup game) and passing the ball out wide. Giants fans have been calling out for the ball to make its way to the wingers all year. In front of a huge bumper crowd, now is the time to unleash Jerry and show off what he can do to an opponents try line!
One thing's for sure, it's going to be one hell of a game, you've got until midday to get your free ticket!
2Jermaine McGillvary3Leroy Cudjoe4Jordan Turner5Aaron Murphy6Lee Gaskell8Sebastine Ikahihifo9Kruise Leeming12Michael Lawrence13Ryan Hinchcliffe14Dale Ferguson15Jordan Rankin16Oliver Roberts19Daniel Smith21Adam O'Brien22Alex Mellor23Darnell McIntosh26Sam Wood27Matty English34Oliver Russell