Injury woes easing for high-riding Giants
Dave Hadfield was a schoolboy convert to rugby league, the game which, one way or another, has dominated his life ever since. After working for newspapers in Shropshire and Blackpool (where he covered the fortunes of Blackpool Borough) he travelled the world, working mainly in Hong Kong and Sydney. He became The Independent's rugby league man in 1990 and has written five books on the game and broadcast extensively for Sky and the BBC. Dave played his last game at the age of 53 and would have set up a try if anyone could have been bothered supporting his break. When not writing about the sport, he now limits himself to a bit of tick and pass with his local club, the Bolton Mets. Family includes supporters - of varying degrees of dedication - of Salford, Wigan, Sheffield Eagles and St George Illawarra.
Saturday 18 February 2012
It might be early in the Super League season, but the meeting of two unbeaten sides at the Galpharm Stadium today has the look of a match with some long-term significance.
Huddersfield have shown the eye-catching form, winning convincingly at Wigan then thrashing the outclassed new boys of Widnes. That looks like an even better start when you consider that it has been achieved against the background of a heavy early-season injury list. That pressure has eased this weekend, with only Luke O'Donnell and David Fa'alogo unavailable for selection against Warrington.
Eorl Crabtree, who plays his 300th game for the Giants, believes the new substitution rules suit him. With the reduction from 12 to 10 permitted changes, prop forwards are required to put in a longer shift. Crabtree relishes that and has shed 6kg (nearly a stone) over the winter to equip himself better.
Dale Ferguson and Keith Mason are back to provide extra options in the pack, but it has been in the outside-backs that Huddersfield have really been doing the damage so far this season. Against Widnes, their England centre Leroy Cudjoe scored four tries and the new signing from Wakefield, Luke George, three. Any criticism of Huddersfield for playing too tight and up the middle looks out of date.
Warrington's Tony Smith is likely to stick to the same formula that accounted for the London Broncos, which would mean an extended opportunity for the richly promising Rhys Evans on the left wing. He was the one back who did not score against Widnes last week, but Smith rightly praised him for an outstanding effort.
In today's other match, which has been brought forward to a 3.30 kick-off, the Catalan Dragons have Leon Pryce in line to make his debut against Castleford, who are likely to field the line-up that surprisingly lost at home to Bradford last week.
The Bulls will try to build on that success when Wigan visit Odsal tomorrow. They have lost Adrian Purtell and James Donaldson with pectoral and knee injuries respectively, but Keith Lulia could make his debut in the centres.
The Wigan coach, Shaun Wane, is able to call upon Liam Farrell again after the forward's one-match suspension.
Hull, who went all the way to Perpignan for a cancelled game last weekend, have their big off-season signing Brett Seymour in contention to make his debut against London Broncos. The Australian half-back injured his knee in pre-season training and it was feared that he would miss several weeks, but he has returned to full training more quickly than expected.
With their first-choice half-backs, Blake Green and Michael Dobson, both injured, the Hull KR pair Craig Hall and Lincoln Withers take their places at home to St Helens. Saints, who have an unimpressive record at Craven Park, are expected to throw in Michael Shenton for his first game of the season and to recall Louie McCarthy-Scarsbook after resting him last week.
There is a match that already has a distinct foot-of-the-table look about it at Widnes, where Salford are the visitors.
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