After a solid start to their Super League campaign, the Giants hope take their first steps to Wembley tonight as we take on Toronto for the first time. It's Woolford vs Woolfpack, Round 1
The two sides couldn't have had more different starts to their respective seasons. With the exception of a poor second half against Wigan, the Giants have been red-hot so far this year, winning 4 games from 5, including a victory over the reigning champions in their own back yard. Toronto are yet to win a game in the top flight, and sit bottom of Super League, still two wins away from having any hope of getting off that relegation spot.
So this should be easy, right? A cup game against a struggling side? What could go wrong?
It may have been three years ago, but any Giants fan will tell you it's still fresh in their memory. We learned two things from that game
1. Never underestimate your opponent 2. Especially in the cup
So yes, Toronto are yet to win this year. But they've come close in a good few games. Admittedly, last week's visit to Leeds was not one of those games, but that's all the more reason for them to want to make amends tonight. And if we spend the evening patting ourselves on the back over our recent good form, we'll be in for a nasty surprise.
It's hard to say how Woolford will play this. In his pre-match press conference, he spoke of how important a good cup run was to him and the board, so it's not surprising we've named a strong 21-man squad. However from this shortlist, we could still stand to rest a few of our usual starters without fear of disrespecting the opposition. If we were fielding our academy side you'd start to ask questions, but letting the likes of Hewitt and Walne have a crack at the first team isn't exactly a cause for concern.
With no Gaskell, we could expect Holmes to join Sezer in the halves, following his great outing last week, but Olly Russell could well get his shot.
But our key man will be Michael Lawrence. One of Toronto's strengths is their unpredictability, and their offload game is a genuine threat. We need someone to shut them down nice and early, and Bruno will no doubt be making big tackle numbers and doing everything he can to stop their attack before it has the chance to get dangerous
Forget the name Toronto. Forget the story around it. Forget how you feel about expansion. Looking through that squad, there are plenty of experienced players who are all too familiar with the Challenge Cup. Matty Russell featured in Warrington's narrow Wembley loss a few years back, Jon Wilkin won the final three years in a row, and Tony Gigot picked up the Lance Todd Trophy just 18 months ago. That's all before you get to Sonny Bill Williams, who won't want to be knocked out in his cup debut.
To have any hope of a win, Tony Gigot will have to be Toronto's key man. Many told me in the off-season we should be throwing money at him to join the Giants, but frankly so far at Toronto he looks like a man who's playing for free. He'll need to turn his game around and give the Wolfpack some extra threat in attack if they're going to get points on the board
The Final Word
For all the talk of Toronto's poor start to the season, they're comfortably leading the offload charts for 2020, with Sonny Bill and Miloudi the top two offloaders in the league. Despite their poor start, they're still committed to an expansive, free-flowing brand of rugby. That style of play doesn't always pay off, but when it does it can be very difficult to deal with. If we keep up the defensive efforts we've seen so far in 2020, the visitors will find themselves stunted and frustrated. We'll start our sets a few crucial extra metres closer to their line, and the tries will come.
While you can't get too caught up on form, looking at the season so far, it's our game to lose, and as long as we keep our nerve we should be expecting to head on through to the final 16
2Jermaine McGillvary3Jake Wardle4Jordan Turner5Darnell McIntosh7Aidan Sezer8James Gavet9Adam O'Brien10Suaia Matagi11Kenny Edwards13Michael Lawrence15Oliver Wilson16Aaron Murphy18Paul Clough22Tom Holmes23Oliver Russell24Louis Senior25Innes Senior26Sam Hewitt27Sam Wood28Adam Walne29Jon-Luke Kirby
21Sonny Bill Williams