Returning Brough to extinguish Dragons fire.
It’s ‘do or die’ time for the Huddersfield Giants and Catalan Dragons as they each aim to put themselves within one game of the Super League Grand Final at the John Smith’s Stadium this evening.
In a potentially explosive encounter between two of the competition’s most physical sides, the mood in each camp couldn’t be more contrasting right now after the first round of the play-offs last week.
Whilst there can be no doubt that the Giants players are still hurting after the abject humiliation of a 57-4 shellacking at Wigan, their Dragons counterparts have every right to be confident following the exhilaration of a thrilling, last-gasp upset over the star-studded Leeds Rhinos.
So, why do we make the Giants such warm 2/5 favourites for this match?
Two good reasons. Firstly, the Giants have had an extra two days off to recover from last week’s exertions which – at the end of a long, arduous season – is potentially priceless.
Secondly, their captain and talisman Danny Brough returns from a two game absence.
The fact that the reigning Man of Steel missed the Wigan game with an excruciating testicle rupture wasn’t just a ‘ball-ache’ for Danny personally, it was equally felt by his Giants team-mates who – not for the first time – looked a completely rudderless ship without him.
With Brough at the helm, the Giants are a completely different side. It’s not just that he brings one of the best kicking games in world rugby to the party, it’s the fact that his all-round game-sense and leadership helps bring the best out in other players.
And, at their very best, there are few teams in Super League who live with the Giants. Spearheaded by Eorl Crabtree, Brett Ferres and Ukuma Ta’ai, they boast a battery of imposing forwards who can mix it with anyone, the centre partnership of Leroy Cudjoe and Joe Wardle is the equal of anything in the league, while Jodie Broughton and Jermaine McGillvary provide genuine pace and potency on the flanks.
It was only two months ago that the Giants had little trouble dispatching the Dragons on home soil, running up almost 40 points in the process, but it has to be said the Catalan-side has improved out of all recognition since then.
Australian half-back Sam Williams – a similar player to Danny Brough in many respects – has proved a shrewd loan acquisition and his form, along with that of explosive back-rower Elliot Whitehead and free-scoring full-back Morgan Escare, has seen the Dragons piece together an impressive four match winning streak, culminating in that shock victory at Leeds.
The fact that the leg-weary Rhinos simply hadn’t fired since winning the Challenge Cup does undermine the significance of the victory slightly, but it did show that the Dragons do possess the mentality to win away from their Mediterranean comfort zone – something which patently wasn’t the case earlier in the year.
So the scene is set for an intriguing showdown with everything at stake. With all the momentum behind them and nothing to lose, the Catalans should definitely have their moments in Huddersfield but there are enough good reasons to expect the Giants to prevail in the end.
Expect the second half to come to life with both teams fighting to be one game away from the final and this reflects our odds with the second 40 being the highest scoring half at 4/6.
The match kicks off at 8.00pm on Friday night at Huddersfield’s John Smith’s Stadium.