There is arguably no more contentious position on the Rugby League field than that of the Loose Forward. Some say the role has devolved into being nothing more than a third prop. Last season we were told Sean O'Loughlin was that last of his kind, courageously holding onto a forgotten way of life. A bit like Luke Skywalker, albeit with better handling skills.
Those sentiments, however, are unlikely to come from Giants fans. That's because for the past two seasons, we've had the pleasure of watching Ryan Hinchcliffe play the vast majority of his games in his natural 'lock' position, and while his contributions may have been criminally underappreciated outside the John Smith's, his performances were crucial to almost everything the club did right on the field.
In his two years at Loose Forward for the Giants, he played a massive 61 out of 63 games, he was one of the top defenders in the league (only Danny Houghton joined Ryan in making over 1000 tackles in both the 2017 and 2018 seasons) and was a major part of our attacking structure.
With under five weeks to go until we kick off the 2019 season, our squad is really starting to take shape, but that number 13 shirt is very much still up for grabs. Here's our top 4 contenders
If you ask most Giants fans what made Hinchcliffe such a good player, they'll likely tell you he was consistent, professional, and a beast in defence. In that regard, Paul Clough would be one hell of a replacement. He was our second biggest defender in 2018 (just behind Ryan) ending the season with 837 tackles at a 95.6% completion rate. But if that's not enough, he was one of our most effective attacking players as well, making more metres than any other Giant (over 200m more than second-placed Jerry) and the second-most carries (just 6 behind Jordan Rankin).
Paul's work ethic is second to none, he's got plenty of experience in Super League (including 8 starts for us at loose forward in 2017), and is clearly highly thought of at the club, having won the Coaches' Player of the Year award. But perhaps the best endorsement for him to take up the #13 shirt comes from the man he'd be replacing. When asked who should take over at Loose Forward at a Supporters Association Q&A, Ryan Hinchcliffe sat and thought for a few seconds, before confidently nominating Paul as the best option.
The qualities we just attributed to Paul Clough are in no way lost on Michael Lawrence. A local lad and fan favourite, Bruno has spent his career working his way through the Giants side, starting out as a winger/centre, before eventually finding himself at home in the pack.
Although he missed a third of the 2018 season to injury, he certainly made an impact when he was on the field, making over 28 tackles a game, with a success rate of 94.6%. He's as reliable as they come, having made the fewest errors-per-game of any regular performer, less than one every 6 games.
Having started over 50 games for the Giants at Loose Forward in his time, and even earning the #13 shirt in 2017, it would almost be poetic for him to reclaim it in his testimonial year - his 13th season with the club
Bruno was not alone in making the most out of an injury-hit season. Fergie only featured in 14 games for the Giants in 2018, but never disappointed with his time on the field, and could have been a genuine contender for player of the year had he gotten more gametime.
When he did play, it was clear how lethal he was with the ball in hand, consistently dragging defences those critical extra metres, averaging just one handling error per five matches and losing out only to Seb and Jerry in Tackle Busts per game. In defence, he was one of the very few players to out-tackle Hinchcliffe with a huge completion rate of 95.8%. And maybe most importantly of all, a lot of these top performances came whilst playing at loose forward
This outside back may seem like an outside shot, but there's more and more talk of Jordan stepping up to the pack in 2019. Despite featuring exclusively in the backs for the Giants, Turner played at loose forward for St Helens a few times in 2014 and 2015. On paper, you could argue we have better strength in our forwards than our backs, but the heavily-rumoured Ikahihifo-Wardle swap would allow Jordan to focus on a new role, with Cudjoe, the Wardles, the Seniors and even Gaskell ready to play in the centres.
Jordan provided the third-most assists for the Giants last year, just behind Brough and Gaskell. His ball handling ability is probably stronger than anyone else in this list, his kicking game certainly is, and as an added bonus, having Jordan start in the pack would provide us with cover for the halves and the backs in case of mid-game injuries
Who would be your pick to take over at 13? Make sure you vote in our poll, and get in touch to tell us why.