Salford have almost named their strongest 19-man squad, Huddersfield have almost named a 19-man squad. But who doesn’t love a challenge?
That’s right, Super League 2019 kicks off this weekend, and the Giants start with their first home opener since 2015. 4 years doesn’t sound like a long time, admittedly, but this was the season when Paul Anderson lead us to the play-offs for the third year in a row. Jerry was the season’s top try-scorer, Broughy had the most assists, and as a side we had the best defence in the league. 4 years is sounding further and further away, isn’t it?
Because it’s all gone a bit downhill from there. 2016 saw a huge drop in form, with the Giants finishing bottom of the league and narrowly escaping the Million Pound Game. In 2017 we scraped into the top 8, and in midway into 2018, Anderson’s replacement, Rick Stone, was sacked as the Giants looked ahead to another disappointing season. Simon Woolford and Mark Andrews had other ideas, however, revitalising the side and making Warrington really sweat for their play-off spot.
With these two still at the helm, a proper preseason and a change in mentality gives us the potential to do very well this year. Unfortunately, as is tradition, there are very few outside of the Claret and Gold ranks backing the Giants to do much of anything. While this prediction has been pretty fair the past few years, remember it’s the same one that did the rounds when we were regularly finishing up at the top of the league. The immediate aim for the club, if they wish to prove the doubters wrong, is to start strong, something we’ve failed to do these past three years. And that begins with a visit from the Red Devils
The Giants are missing a few key men for the opening clash, with 4 starting squad numbers being made to wait for their 2019 debut, but even if we assume the 19th man won’t play, we still have a deceptively good team for our first outing. The loss of McGillvary is undoubtedly a huge blow for the side, but Innes Senior is one of the most promising young players in the game, having already put in some top drawer performances against Warrington and Saints, two favourites for the 2019 title.
Of the given 18, you’d expect Walne to miss out against his former side. But what of the mystery 19th man? Well of the venn diagram of “players who might be be fit in time” and “players who’d break into that 17”, for me Paul Clough is probably the only man in the middle. He was initially to be rested, set to play in round 2, but pending a late fitness check he could well feature.
Personally, with fitness such a key factor for the revamped Super League, I’d be surprised if we rushed anyone back, so I don’t expect any significant last minute changes to the side. The 19th man will be just that. I don’t see this as cause for concern, if we were really worried about squad depth, would we have sent Smith out on loan two days before the squad announcement?
Key man The success of our upcoming season will depend on the performances of Lee Gaskell. A year ago, that wouldn’t have inspired much confidence, but the arrival of Woolford saw a tremendous rise in form for the halfback, which has continued into 2019 with two outstanding preseason games.
Ed Chamberlain and Josh Wood are the notable exceptions from Ian Watson’s side, although the recent signing of Ken Sio is more than sufficient cover for Ed. That said, there may still be concern amongst the Salford fans over the quality of the bench. While the Giants bring a stronger pack, there’s some genuine quality out back for the visitors. The consistently under-the-radar Niall Evalds, and the headline-grabbing Jackson Hastings will have the potential to do us some real damage if not managed properly. Hastings will no doubt try to exploit our weakened back line with some difficult kicks. Whether the forwards have what it takes to provide him that platform remains to be seen.
Key man Jackson Hastings may seem the obvious choice, but the Red Devils will be putting a lot of hopes on his former teammate. With Logan Tomkins making a surprise return from his long-term injury, the pressure will really be on Joey Lussick, who will need to likely play for big minutes as his fellow hooker eases back into playing form.
Where will the game be won
With the preseason games being a bit of a free-for-all in the interchange regard, this will be the first game of 2019 where we’ll really see the effects of the new rules and this could be the difference for the Giants, who will go into the game with the stronger of the two benches. Even if Salford start well, fatigue may be an issue for them in the final quarter. If our pack can dominate theirs, we can control Hastings. if not, then it becomes a battle of the kickers. As will be the case so often in 2019, Gaskell and Hastings will both be trying to take control of the game, and play it on their terms. I, for one, can’t wait.
Prediction: Giants 18-10 Salford