Ian Watson hungry for Challenge Cup glory after sorting ‘issues’ at Huddersfield

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Ian Watson knew the recipe for success at Huddersfield but first he had to pick out the bad apples.

Much was expected of the Giants after they managed to prise Watson away from Salford ahead of the 2021 season but they underperformed for much of it and finished well outside the top six.

A reshuffle of his squad, with major departures and a significant injection of fresh blood, has enabled Watson to turn things around and he will lead Huddersfield out at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on Saturday with high hopes of guiding them to a first Challenge Cup success for 69 years.

Huddersfield Giants v Catalans Dragons – Betfred Super League – Totally Wicked Stadium
Huddersfield coach Ian Watson was always confident he could turn around the club’s fortunes (PA Images/Richard Sellers)

“It was always going to be different last year,” Watson said ahead of the showdown with Wigan.

“Obviously there were issues there, otherwise they wouldn’t have been bringing someone else in, so I needed to find out what those issues were so that we could go forward on the back of it.

“What I found was that there were a lot of talented players but there were a lot of individual players there and they played individually as well.

“It wasn’t a team, whereas you can see with this group, they play as a team, they buy into everything as a team.”

Hull FC v Huddersfield Giants – Betfred Super League – Halliwell Jones Stadium
Huddersfield captain Aidan Sezer fell out of favour in 2021 (PA Images/Martin Rickett)

Watson is too diplomatic to name the individuals concerned but he clearly did not see eye to eye with captain Aidan Sezer and second rower Kenny Edwards, who failed to finish the season and were quickly out of the door by the end of it.

Sezer, who was a strong contender for Man of Steel in his first season with the Giants in 2020, recovered from an ankle injury sustained playing for the Combined Nations All Stars against England in June but was not picked again by Watson while Edwards was ignored after serving a 10-match ban for putting his finger up an opponent’s bottom.

Sezer joined Leeds while Edwards was sent on a season-long loan to Castleford.

“Either they didn’t want to play to the system or didn’t want to do the tough stuff and, to be able to play and win things, you’ve got to do the tough things,” Watson said.

“First and foremost, the important thing is how hard you are prepared to work and what you are willing to do.

“Generally, defence is a big attitude and effort area and probably an area that we felt we vastly needed to improve to be able to move forward.”

Watson brought in a couple of loan signings for the second half of 2021 and decided to turn to youth, with Will Pryce, Oliver Russell and Sam Hewitt among those to get a chance to impress with great effect.

Pryce and Russell have both kicked on this year and the addition of former England prop Chris Hill and half-backs Theo Fages and Tui Lolohea enabled Watson to fit the missing pieces in the jigsaw as the Giants got off to an impressive start, winning four of their first five Super League matches.

Leeds Rhinos v Huddersfield Giants – Betfred Super League – Emerald Headingley Stadium
Theo Fages has played a key role in the Giants’ transformation (PA Images/Mike Egerton)

“I knew we would be better than the year before because of what we’d done midway through the season in terms of moving people out and bringing some of the younger players through,” Watson said.

“We were playing 10 under-21s at one point and winning games. That showed some good signs and the addition of some quality players like Theo and Chris Hill was a massive plus for us.

“You can never predict when it’s going to happen but this year we’ve got a real good squad and everyone has bought in as a unit.

“It’s leading us to success at this moment in time. What we’ve got to do now is make sure that we’re consistent in terms of our preparation and our performances.”

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