As Huddersfield Giants gear up for a home quarter-final clash against Catalan Dragons on Thursday, we pay credit to Chris Thorman’s impressive two months in charge as Head Coach.
“We’ll be in the Super 8’s and facing a home quarter-final Challenge Cup tie on the back of four straight wins before our next manager comes in.”
You’d have been laughed at by your family and friends if you’d have come out with such a wild statement when Rick Stone was sacked, but that’s exactly where the Huddersfield Giants find themselves as Chris Thorman passes the managerial rein over to Simon Woolford.
Okay, the Aussie’s visa delays may have handed Thorman a few more opportunities to string those much needed (and well deserved) wins together in the end, nonetheless the Claret and Gold go into tonight’s Challenge Cup quarter-final in buoyant mood.
And Thorman – although modestly marking himself 6/10 for his time in charge as Head Coach – must be given a hell of a lot of praise for his achievements in the Huddersfield Giants hot-seat.
To be fair, on paper his self-reflection seems accurate: four wins, one draw and five losses over ten games doesn’t seem so impressive from afar. Dig a little deeper, however, and you’ll come to your own conclusion.
FORM UNDER THORMAN
Friday 30th March – Huddersfield Giants 22-22 Leeds Rhinos – DRAW
Monday 2nd April – Catalans Dragons 27-6 Huddersfield Giants – LOSS
Sunday 8th April – Huddersfield Giants 28-40 Castleford Tigers – LOSS
Sunday 15th April – Huddersfield Giants 12-30 Salford Red Devils – LOSS
Friday 20th April – St Helens 66-4 Huddersfield Giants – LOSS
Friday 27th April – Warrington Wolves 38-4 Huddersfield Giants – LOSS
Friday 4th May – Huddersfield Giants 28-18 Widnes Vikings – WIN
Friday 11th May – Huddersfield Giants 24-14 Wakefield Trinity – WIN
Sunday 20th May – Wakefield Trinity 22-25 Huddersfield Giants – WIN
Friday 25th May – Salford Red Devils 16-24 Huddersfield Giants – WIN
Make no mistake about it, the club was in a mess when Stone was sacked at the end of March. With just two wins from the opening seven fixtures, Giants sat 11th with the worst defensive record. Scroll back long enough on Facebook fan group pages and you’ll see numerous people planning another dreaded Middle 8’s campaign.
Although many people felt the decision to sack Stone was right, the timing of the sacking (on a Tuesday as the team prepared for a West Yorkshire derby against Leeds Rhinos on the Friday) seemed strange, too.
Yet it was Thorman who had to pick up the depleted side before his first match in charge at the John Smith’s Stadium side. And when we say depleted, we mean that both form-wise and in the selection sense.
But you could see from the go that whatever Thorman said to his side, he certainly got his message across. That was highlighted by the fact that Jared Simpson scored in the first minute against Leeds in his first match in charge and had Jordan Rankin’s drop goal attempt landed on the right side of the posts then it would have been the perfect start.
Nobody expected Giants to get anything from that match, so to walk away with a point after such a spirited performance with a severely hindered side was incredibly pleasing.
What was more impressive, though, was how Thorman – who interestingly lead the pre-match training routines – reacted in his post-match press conference. He applauded Rankin for having the courage to take on the drop goal, then quickly focused on how he was so happy that his team achieved the dangerous field position due to the strides of his forwards.
It would have been so much easier for Thorman to make a scapegoat out of Rankin and – although he was slightly annoyed that his side couldn’t take the two points – by suggesting that if they were a little smarter in areas it would have chalked up a win, you could see he was starting to mould the togetherness back into a torn-apart squad.
Thorman’s dealing with the media was spot on from the beginning, not just did he offer a refreshing honesty and insight into club activities which many fans thought they were owed, you could just genuinely tell that he has the club’s future at the best interests.
Things, however, were going to get a whole lot worse before getting better.
Next came a trip to Perpignan where the Giants fell to the foot of the table after a disappointing defeat to Catalan Dragons. Had Aaron Murphy’s second try not been dubiously disallowed it could well have been another story, but the score-line reflected the Claret and Gold’s turbulence. Added to the fact that Adam O’Brien and Alex Mellor were forced off with injuries as well as already missing keymen in Danny Brough, Jermaine McGillvary, Jake Mamo, Leroy Cudjoe and Lee Gaskell, it was a gloomy time to be supporting the Giants.
A spirited second-half performance against Castleford Tigers at the John Smith’s Stadium followed, but any positives drawn were brought storming back down to earth with a disappointing defeat to Salford one week later. Brough’s sending off for abuse towards a match official pretty much reflected the frustration around the situation the club found themselves in.
The lowest was yet to come for Thorman’s men, and the following two trips – albeit to probably two of the top three strongest teams in this year’s Super League – asked so many more questions of the team rather than answer critics. Being put to a 66-4 sword by St Helens before a 38-4 hammering at Warrington Wolves would have left anybody questioning Thorman’s managerial stint; at the time he was six games in with just a point to show.
Nevertheless, it is important state just how much an influence injuries had. In that last defeat, the original 19th man Sam Wood, a centre, eventually had to play on the wing. He was accompanied by back-rower Michael Lawrence on the right whilst Kruise Leeming was put on the other wing due to Aaron Murphy and Jared Simpson’s injuries.
Additionally, from the start of the season, the following players have missed several games – the majority long-term injuries:
Jake Mamo, Jermaine McGillvary, Leroy Cudjoe, Aaron Murphy, Lee Gaskell, Danny Brough, Kruise Leeming, Sebastine Ikahihifo, Tommy Symonds, Dale Ferguson, Michael Lawrence, Shannon Wakeman, Oliver Roberts, Alex Mellor, Adam Walne, Adam O’Brien, Sam Wood, Jared Simpson and Jake Wardle
However, they do say that adversity builds character and there is no doubt that this Giants side now has an abundance of charisma which will no doubt hold them in good stead for the future. And over the last month, coinciding with the announcement of Woolford’s takeover, Thorman’s side have remarkably become the form men. A solid enough home win against Widnes Vikings was followed by a moral-boosting victory against Wakefield Trinity in the Challenge Cup.
Although many could argue that Thorman only needed to win one game to reach the Challenge Cup quarter-finals, you can only beat who’s in front of you and overcoming a recent bogey team with relatively little trouble is only good news for players and fans alike. There was also an indication too that the Cup offered a nice distraction from the league, whilst sitting in the bottom four at the time.
The same opponents followed at the Magic Weekend, and although Giants made hard work of the two points in the end, it was a largely successful performance and the way the team threw the ball around the pitch, especially in the first 30 minutes, was very pleasing to see. Hanging on to them kind of victories, which would no doubt had been a loss in previous weeks, is often a good indication that things are on the up.
Any doubts over slight weaknesses in the side were partly put to bed when a great second half performance at the AJ Bell Stadium where we overleaped Salford Red Devils in the Super League – yes we actually beat them. Jordan Turner’s switch to the halves, which was first trialled in the defeat to Catalans, has been a positive one and a man of the match performance last week may indicate he could be there for a few weeks longer.
It’s clear to see that Thorman has brought back in so much confidence into his side despite numerous obstacles to overcome and in any level of sport finding that confidence is the hardest thing to find. Equally, it’s the hardest thing to lose when you’ve got it, so hopefully this continues.
Perhaps where Stone was a little reluctant in giving so much youth a chance, Thorman had little option but to bleed these fresh faces into the matchday squad. One of the greatest achievements is how Thorman managed to find the silver lining amongst the overshadowing injury cloud. Twins Louis and Innes Senior, Sam Hewitt, Oliver Russell and Jake Wardle all made their debuts and made instant impacts with a number signing professional contracts. Though Wardle would have undoubtedly made his debut before had it not been a bad luck with injury, Thorman must take credit for bringing in these types of players and it was to no surprise that Wardle came up with a double try scoring man-of-the-match performance on his debut.
The decision to recall Matty English and draw parallels with James Graham will serve as nothing but encouragement to the 20-year old whose feet are so firmly placed to the ground.
There is no doubt that these young players look up to Thorman: a man who lives, sleeps and breathes rugby league.
Those 14-hour days put in by Chris and his background team on their days off are no doubt starting to pay off and although Catalan Dragons will be no walkover tonight, a win would mean the Giants are just 80 minutes away from a trip to Wembley.
If Woolford possesses just half of the attitude Thorman has towards Huddersfield Giants, then the future is bright for the Claret and Gold.
ABOUT ME: I have just finished studying Sports Journalism at the University of Huddersfield and currently work at BBC Sport on a freelance basis. Having undertaken a final year university placement at the Huddersfield Giants, I reported on my hometown club both home and away.
I’ve always loved football and have supported Town since the day I was born whilst admittedly I only really kept an eye on the Giants. However, over the last few years rugby has played a massive part of my life.
In my first and second year at University, I covered Huddersfield Rugby Union for the club and Huddersfield Daily Examiner. When I joined, they went on to lose 15 of their next 18 games and were relegated from National 2 North – albeit at least eight of them losses came in the last minute or by a single point. Sometimes it was both.
Anyway, the following season, I left midway between due to work commitments and they won every single match to storm the National 3 North. Last year, they had their highest ever finish in their history and ended 6th in the Rugby Union’s 4th tier.
The point of that little story is that whenever I join a club, they tend to go through a rough patch. When I leave, they go on a good run, so fingers crossed that follows trend! We have won our last three games, so you never know… (touches wood).