There's no getting away from it. 2019 was a bitterly disappointing season for the Giants. There was more excitement in preseason than we'd had in some time, and with good reason. Simon Woolford had just pulled off one hell of a turnaround, tasked with avoiding relegation, he revitalised the Giants and lead them right up the table, turning them into the form team of the competition. With an old favourite running the strength and conditioning side of things, our injury woes would be a thing of the past. One of the most decorated and successful wingers of the decade was signed up, and after a few shaky years, things were finally looking up for the club. Things were finally back on track.
The writing was on the wall in the build up to round one, when the Giants failed to name a 19-man side. McGillvary, Cudjoe, Gaskell, Clough, Murphy, Ferguson, Jardle and Holmes were just some of the names on the injury list starting out the season, with Ukuma unavailable due to a visa complication. Next thing you know, we’ve got our academy coach playing at fullback, our star signing limping for an hour of the game and the Giants were comprehensively beaten by Salford. Admittedly, this would have been easier to take had we known the route Salford’s season would take. The following week, as our fifth-choice halfback limped off the field, the aforementioned academy coach stepped into the halves and you started to get the feeling it would be a very long season indeed.
After the final game of the season, I sat as Ken Davy addressed the staff, sponsors and fans alike. There was no questioning his determination as he promised everyone in the room – “Next year, if I have anything to do with it, we won't be at the bottom end of the table”. With a few good signings and behind-the-scenes changes already in place, here’s the five things we need working out for the 2020 season
Keeping the players fit and on the field This is, by some distance, the priority for me. A big part of my confidence going into this season was based on the belief that we’d addressed the fitness issues that had plagued our side over the past few years. Starting the season with half the side injured is a bad move at the best of times, but with the reduced interchange count it absolutely killed us. With the exception of a brief period in June, every week it was a case of working out who could play, rather than who should. This has been a recurring theme for the past 4 years and I can only hope it’s something we leave behind next season. That said, amongst all the restructuring behind the scenes, our new head of S&C Ollie Richardson has an impressive CV and is spoken very highly of by everyone at the club, and with his first Giants preseason already underway, he could be the man to turn our fortunes around
Learn to beat the penalty count It’s easy to get frustrated with the whistle when watching the Giants. We’ve been in the bottom 5 for penalties conceded for 8 years running. No other team has been in that position for more than two straight years. No matter where you land on the spectrum of “hard done by” to “bad discipline”, we could clearly benefit from cleaning our game up. I don’t know how many of our opponents’ tries came off the back of penalties but I’d bet the majority were. It's important that as we bring in more "aggressive" players in Edwards and Gavet, that we also refine the art of not getting penalised!
Settling on our back line With Golding almost certain to be our starting fullback, that leaves plenty of healthy competition in the outside backs. But say that McGillvary, McIntosh, Uate, Cudjoe, Turner and Jake Wardle are all fit. Who will be our ‘go-to’ starting wingers and centres? It’s a tough call, before you even add in the likes of the Senior twins (who unquestionably established themselves at the top level this year), Dom Young, Chester Butler and potentially Sam Wood, who’ll all be hot on the heels of the more senior players. Will Turner move to the pack? Will Cudjoe be able to bounce back, having played just 11 games in the past two years? I’d obviously welcome this kind of selection headache, rather than the alternative. It’s not as if those who miss out will be condemned to sit in the stands or go out on dual reg. Because....
Getting ready for reserve grade 2020 sees the introduction of the reserve grade for several clubs, including the Giants. With Poching on his way to Hull KR, the Giants will likely announce a reserve coach before the season kicks off. On the one hand, the introduction of reserve grade comes with some concerns. Given that we’ve struggled to field 17 players for one game a week in 2019, putting out two starting sides a week could going to be tricky. Academy players will surely be drafted in, but hopefully not at the expense of their own games. There are, of course, plenty of positives to be had from reserves. It will allow injured players a gentle return back to match fitness without dropping into the Championship, the academy boys will get some invaluable experience against older players, but above all, it will be a great experience for fans, giving them a bit more variety in their games. I’d love to see reserve games used as curtain-raisers before any first-team weekend fixtures.
Finalising recruitment As usual, the rumours have been flying around in the off-season, ranging from the nailed-on (Edwards’ signing was our worst kept secret) to the ridiculous (Myler? Really?). With Edwards, Golding and Gavet signed up for 2020, we have to ask if there’ll be any more movement. The Sezer talk just won’t go away, but it’s dead in the water unless we free up a quota spot. If the club manage to move on Seb or Frawley (as they are rumoured to be trying), then the door would open up for one more overseas signing, and Sezer could be the final piece of the puzzle