It's been a hell of a week for the Giants. Rick Stone was released from his role as head coach, Chris Thorman took up the role and was left with a heavily depleted squad going into the Leeds game. But after two heavy losses, the youngsters and remaining senior players did us proud and took the reigning champions right down to the wire to claim a vital point.
The game started as well as you could hope. In scenes reminiscent of his 2015 debut against Wigan, Jared Simpson opened up the scoring with a try on his first touch of the ball, waiting only a minute to do so. As good as Jared's effort was, it's worth noting the build up looked totally different to what we've seen this year. We were passing it around freely and even daring to give it to our wingers. That style of play continued throughout the game, and resulted in a much better all round performance and a second Simpson try which saw us extend the lead to 12-0. Soon after, McIntosh was dragged into touch and fielding a kick, and Leeds scored on the resulting set. On the break of half time, a nasty high tackle from Oledzki allowed Brough to continue his 100% kicking streak and take the two points, extending the lead to 14-6 as the teams left the field.
After a break from Ryan Hall early in the second half, a penalty was given for holding down, and the England star followed up his earlier run with a try. Soon after, a similar penalty was given on Leeds line (although it was pretty clear the attacking player was preventing Clough from getting up) and Leeds took the lead for the first time. It wouldn't last long, however, as Adam O'Brien threw a dummy pass, before dragging the Leeds defence over the line to score the Giants' third of the afternoon. After another two-pointer we looked all set to get our third win of the season, but a late try from Ash Handley equalised things. Neither Rankin nor Myler could make good of their drop goal attempts, and the game finished 22-22.
By far the two best halves of rugby we've played all year, I'm more pleased with this draw than I was with the two wins, although I do think we deserved two points out of this. Our forwards have been good all season but it was great to see our backs clicking so well. As good as the individual performances were from 1-7, the style of rugby was completely different. Our passing was the best it's been all year and we weren't afraid to throw it out wide.
Many, including this blog, were confused as to why we we had recently moved Rankin to fullback while McIntosh sat in the stands. Darnell took his chance and had a huge performance, comfortably making the most metres (173m) and the most carries (18) from the fullback position. Jordan had a really strong game in the halves too, we're a much better side with him at stand-off. He can help Brough with the kicking, but his running game is what really adds something to our attack.
Special mention goes to Louis Senior and Sam Hewitt. Louis ran with the confidence of a seasoned pro, regularly dragging Leeds defenders across the line and making those important extra metres. Sam impressed in both the centres and the back row when called upon, there are few players who can claim to have done so well in both the pack and the backs on their debut.
The tries Leeds did score were off the back of some fairly soft defence, but when you've got 5 backs playing their first Super League game of the year in their respective positions, including two debutants, it's something you can forgive, and something that will gel over time.
Leeds are the best opposition we've taken any points from this year, although that may be more to do with the quality of Warrington and Widnes than anything. Regardless, we contained them well and they'll have left the John Smiths feeling lucky to have gotten the point. They'll count themselves even luckier that professional grub Carl Ablett wasn't shown a red card, after repeatedly punching a player off the ball.
Myler and Ferres did enough crossing to make the Romans blush in this Good Friday fixture, but there were some good performances from the opposition. Ryan Hall looked as dangerous as he's ever been, and even without his two tries Ash Handley was a bit of a handful. Brad Singleton was my man of the match for the visitors, he had a good game in defence and played a big part in keeping us down to three tries.
The final word
Could this be the turning point that the Giants need? 2018's Swinton moment? Maybe. We typically do well against Leeds, but the strong performance from the youngsters will not only give them a huge confidence boost, but allow some healthy competition for when the senior players come back. Unless Widnes or Salford produce an upset, a win at strugglers Catalans will see us finish the Easter break in the top 8.
It's too early to say how big an influence Thorman had on the performance, but if we continue to play with that much enthusiasm, commitment and composure throughout the rest of the season, then you'd struggle to argue with him getting the job full time!