HUDDERSFIELD GIANTS coach Rick Stone accepts he is under pressure as his struggling side desperately seek to rally tonight after an “embarrassing” Challenge Cup exit against part-timers Swinton Lions.
Granted, venturing to in-form Leeds Rhinos on the back of a four-day turnaround is hardly ideal to try and end a dismal run that has seen the Fartowners fail to win in their last nine matches.
However, such is their current plight, Huddersfield have little opportunity to feel sorry themselves ahead of the trip to Headingley.
Leeds, for their part, have won seven of their last eight matches, a sequence Stone can only dream of, and just a draw this evening would see Rhinos usurp Castleford Tigers from top spot.
“There’s always plenty of pressure,” admitted Stone, the Australian who only arrived last July but could not prevent Giants from finishing bottom of Super League, a fate they are again fast heading towards now.
“Obviously, professional sport is about winning.
I’ll keep the Brierley thing personal between me and Ryan but, at the end of the day, it’s a club decision that we’ve made and we’ve moved on from it.Huddersfield Giants’ head coach, Rick Stone
“But we have to be realistic a little bit about our situation with the injuries.
“We’re probably the only club that has played over 30 players in their squad so far this year which makes it tough.
“Realistically, if we play under 25 it gives us a real good chance of having a crack at the semis.
“When you’re between 25 and 30 it’s a little bit harder. But when you get over 30 and playing a lot of inexperienced players it becomes increasingly harder and harder.
“We’re not making excuses but we’ve got a good 13 senior first-team players out at the moment and it is tough for us.
“There’s not a lot we can do about that at the moment but all we can do is make sure we put our best 17 out on the field on Thursday night and do our job appropriately.”
Asked if the senior management were behind him and whether he has a way forward, the former Newcastle Knights chief replied: “Obviously we have but it doesn’t matter what coach you are or what club you’re at if you have 13 of your top players out because it is tough.
“It’s basic mathematics and that’s the realistic position we’re in. Injury can be the biggest factor at times and it is for us at the moment.
“The Swinton loss was tough. It was probably pretty embarrassing, to be honest.
“We played some young blokes and thought they’d manage that game and get it sorted.
“Full credit to Swinton, they beat us fair and square. We’re out of the Cup and moving on now.”
Tonight, Huddersfield welcome back vice-captain Danny Brough after suspension.
England winger Jermaine McGillvary and Australian duo Jake Mamo and Ryan Hinchcliffe are among those returning after being rested for Sunday’s disastrous 28-24 home defeat to a side that had lost nine of its 11 Championship games.
That said, Giants have lost stand-off Lee Gaskell to a hamstring strain that could sideline him for a fortnight, leaving Brough as the only recognised half-back in their 19-man squad.
For all he was struggling in Super League, the club’s decision, then, to sell scrum-half Ryan Brierley to Toronto Wolfpack last Thursday, could be seen as ill-timed.
On whether they have a replacement lined up, Stone said: “We haven’t made a decision yet but are definitely actively looking.
“I’ll keep the Brierley thing personal between me and Ryan but, at the end of the day, it’s a club decision that we’ve made and we’ve moved on from it.”
In the long-term, Giants yesterday confirmed 19-year-old half-back Izaac Farrell – son of former Huddersfield forward and Leeds 1999 Challenge Cup winner Anthony Farrell – has signed his first full-time deal with the club until the end of 2018. He made his debut against Swinton but is not in tonight’s squad when Stone hopes his side will be energised by the rivalry created from this West Yorkshire derby.
Leeds are expecting to see a response from opponents who have not won since beating Wakefield Trinity on February 24, one of just two victories this term.
Admittedly, they have drawn at Wigan Warriors and St Helens during their barren run and Rhinos hooker Matt Parcell admitted: “Obviously, they will be pretty disappointed with that last result.
“They’ll be looking to make up for that and we are definitely going to have to aim up. A win can put us on top of the table so there’s a lot to play for.
“We are in a good position and it is up to us to continue the form. The biggest thing for us is we have still got a lot of improvement left in us. That’s really exciting.”
The Australian, who joined from Manly Sea Eagles during the winter, has been integral in Leeds’s own renaissance.
Meanwhile, Huddersfield will pay their respects tonight after the sudden death of Giants owner Ken Davy’s wife, Jennifer, yesterday.
A club statement read: “Huddersfield Giants are devastated to inform all of our supporters and the wider rugby league community of the passing of Jennifer Davy.
“The Club requests that her husband Ken and the family are allowed to grieve privately. No further statement is expected in the short term.
“The team will wear black armbands at Leeds tomorrow evening and carry the initials JD on their training tops as a mark of respect for Jennifer.”
England have called up Warrington’s Stefan Ratchford to replace stand-off Gareth Widdop for the May 6 Test against Samoa.
Halifax-born Widdop was ruled out for around six weeks after damaging knee ligaments.
Hull FC prop Liam Watts has had a two-match ban, for a high tackle on Castleford’s Luke Gale, halved on appeal.