Giants wary of Cup final hangover syndrome

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The Independent Online

Huddersfield emerged from their 42-12 defeat by St Helens in the Challenge Cup final last Saturday with plenty of credit. The question now is what effect the experience will have on the still- incomplete business of remaining in Super League. The Giants are at home to Salford this afternoon in the first of three matches which could, in their own way, be as important as their day out at Twickenham in their first final for 44 years.

Were they to lose all three - their other opponents are the Catalans Dragons and Bradford - they will probably crown a tumultuous season by returning to National League One, because 18 points will not be enough to keep a team up in this most competitive of years in the lower reaches of Super League.

As their coach, Jon Sharp, says, it is no coincidence that Huddersfield's best players at Twickenham were Brad Drew, Robbie Paul and Michael de Vere, because they were the three with experience of the big occasion. They will be joined today by Kevin Brown, the recent signing from Wigan, who was Cup-tied for the final. Brown is only a young player, but he has been through the mill, and the Giants will need all the know-how they can find over the next fortnight.

Salford are destined for the play-offs for the first time, but will want to arrive there on the back of some convincing form. They hope their mercurial full-back Karl Fitzpatrick will be fit after a knee injury, but David Gower, the recently arrived Australian second- rower, is definitely out after shoulder surgery.

There has been illness in the camp, and a further complication is that Karl Harrison, a strong candidate for coach of the year, is still on crutches after snapping his Achilles tendon playing in a charity football match.

Last season, it was Hull who suffered the Cup final hangover, losing two of their three remaining Super League games and scraping home against Wakefield in the other.

Only a similar stumble this time can deny them second place going into this year's play-offs, towards which they should make further progress by beating the Catalans Dragons this afternoon. They have confirmed the signing of the Wigan hooker Wayne Godwin on a two-season contract. The blueprint is that he will understudy Richard Swain until the New Zealand international retires at the end of the 2007 season.

The Catalans' Jérôme Guisset will miss the match, but has had his suspension for a high tackle reduced from two matches to one on appeal.