Former Canberra hooker Simon Woolford was last week named as the new coach of the Huddersfield Giants, more than a month after the sacking of fellow Australian Rick Stone.
The Giants lie 9th in the Super League table, just a point off bottom, with a fight for survival in the Qualifiers looking increasingly likely.
So what can Woolford do to keep this famous club in the top tier? Here’s a five point plan to get him started…
1. Foster the team spirit
There have certainly been some questions asked of the effort of the Giants players during an eight match winless run, but the team spirit was the difference in last Friday’s win over Widnes.
Every penalty won was celebrated as a team with back slapping and high fives. Any mistake and the culprit was consoled straight away and the team moved on.
It would have been understandable if the players only focused on themselves to try and impress the new coach, but instead they fought for each other from the first minute to the last.
There was an obvious spirit to the side which, if maintained under Woolford, will be one of the Giants’ biggest strengths as they fight off the threat of relegation.
2. Place faith in youth
Another positive from the Widnes victory was the emergence of another two talents from the Giants’ academy, with Jake Wardle scoring two tries in a man of the match performance and Olly Russell impressing at scrum half.
Interim coach Chris Thorman has placed his faith in players from the Academy in his time in charge, handing debuts to Sam Hewitt and the Senior twins, Louis and Innes, as well, with Innes notching three tries in four games to put him behind only Oliver Roberts in their try scoring charts this season.
Thorman has also given more game time to Darnell McIntosh and Jared Simpson, with neither looking at all out of place. In the forwards, Matty English has emerged as a very promising talent with his strong forward carries and hard tackling.
Players will return from injuries in time but Woolford would do well to keep what is working right, even if that is at the expense of more experienced players. Wardle in particular looks deserving of a regular spot, although a dangerous tackle has earned him a three match ban.
3. Get the best out of Jake Mamo
Match-winners are stardust at the bottom end of the table, and in Jake Mamo Huddersfield have a player more than capable of doing that.
It was at this stage of the season last year that Mamo was key to an upturn in form for the Giants, scoring 12 tries in just nine appearances after signing from the Newcastle Knights before injury brought an early end to his campaign.
Mamo is a player Woolford will know a little about from several months where they were both involved at Newcastle, and he may have a plan to get the best out of him.
He may well have been behind the decision to move Mamo to the wing against Widnes, which could be a good move for a player who always looks best on the attack. A back three of Mamo, Rankin and Jermaine McGillvary would certainly set pulses racing.
4. Make a decision on Brough
With his best years arguably well in the past, the decision to hand a new one-year contract to Danny Brough, at significant cost to the wage budget, was questioned by many.
Woolford needs to make sure that his team selection is influenced not by the wage bill but by performances, which means making a decision on whether Brough should still be the key man in the team.
With Russell and Jordan Turner impressing against Widnes as the pivots, along with Rankin potentially competing for those spots, the pressure should be on Brough, and Lee Gaskell, to put in big performances or be dropped.
5. Cross fingers on injuries
Perhaps not something fully in the control of the new coach, but it would be fair to say that the Giants have not had the best of luck with injuries so far this year.
Mamo has missed a chunk of games this season, while McGillvary has been limited to five appearances. Huddersfield aren’t blessed with match-winning stars, so they need the top players they do have to be fit every week.
Add into that captain Leroy Cudjoe, who has yet to play this season after major knee surgery. His influence will be massive on a side that has drifted through games, and he showed that he’s not afraid to criticise by saying his team-mates should have been ‘ashamed’ of the performances that led to Stone’s sacking.
All of that comes before tackling the long-term issues at the club, which turned out to be the undoing of Stone after he pulled off a similar rescue job in 2016. Clearing out the squad and making room for his own signings will be a challenge for another day; for now Woolford has quite the fight on his hands just to keep the Giants in Super League.