Despite the fact that Harlequins led the Aviva Premiership for the majority of the season their first title win at the weekend was still unexpected. It’s bizarre that a team might taste victory to the tune of 75% of fixtures and still be a surprise winner at the end of it all. The expectation is to bow out in the play-offs, that other teams have been cautious not to strain themselves too hard in the preliminaries but they will bring it to the table.
Of course, that does always happen when a competition reaches the knock out stages, the all-or-nothingness of it inspires to a great degree. Harlequins were determined not to see their 21 rounds of rugby go to waste and they wanted it – they really, really wanted it - and Huddersfield Giants can learn a lot from their historic win.
There are some obvious similarities between Huddersfield and Harlequins - both have been promoted in the last ten years and before Saturday neither had won a league title in the modern game. Both have had a similar amount of time with their current coaches. In 2009. Nathan Brown inherited a side that had finished 10th and took them to third place in the space of a season. Conor O’Shea had to rebuild Harlequins after the Bloodgate scandal but he has now reaped the fruits of his labour. Two or three years seems like just enough time for it to all come good.
The similarities run further still, though, Harlequins finished the season with 121 fewer points scored than their closest rivals Leicester but crucially, their final opponents conceded 89 more points in the season.
So what has this got to do with rugby league? Well, there are eight rounds of Super League left but, as it stands, Huddersfield have scored the fewest points of anyone in the top four. Crucially though, only prolific winners Wigan have conceded fewer than Huddersfield this season and, before the Magic Weekend, there was a mere converted try in it.
The answer to winning the league lies in what Huddersfield have shown they can already do and what Harlequins did with gusto on Saturday. All they have to do is defend. I feel as though I may have discovered the secret to winning the league, as though I’m ready to coach my first premiership team to victory, I have nailed it. The only thing that Huddersfield have to do to win the league is stop other teams crossing the try line.
That basic aim of the game being grasped, the point is that Huddersfield have proven that they can defend and they’ve proven all year that they can do it well. They may not have leading try scorers Josh Charnley, Chris Rily or Ryan Atkins in attack but what they do have is a solid defensive line and this will be key when it comes to the play-offs.
Harlequins and Huddersfield share a potent weapon in that their goal kickers are the best in their games this season. Nick Evans finished on a century of goals and Danny Brough’s accuracy has seen him repeatedly at the top of the goal-kicking stats sheet this year. Brough’s in-play kicking game is also key to Huddersfield success and it earned him a place in the England squad because it’s strategic, it’s often well placed and, most importantly, it’s unpredictable.
Their wingers aren’t the most prolific in the league - Luke George has scored 11 this season and Jermaine McGillvary just six but, interestingly, there are four Huddersfield players who are within amongst the top ten metre makers which is more than any other side. Only England Hooker James Roby has made more metres than McGillvary. In short, Huddersfield are working hard for their wins.
They have the added incentive of knowing that their coach will leave to join St Helens at the end of the season and under his stewardship its been the best shot at the title they’ve ever had. Captain Kevin Brown announced his shock move to newly promoted Widnes Vikings at the weekend and he’ll be keen to get some silverware to show for his four years at Huddersfield before his title prospects become severely diminished with Widnes, currently trailing at the bottom of the league.
Huddersfield really do have the key ingredients to lead them to a Super League win. Like Harlequins, they've already laid the foundations for themselves and now they just have to use the opportunity and the real danger is that all of those metres made so far will go to will go to waste if they burn out before the play-offs. They showed signs of major weakening last weekend in the 38-34 defeat to Salford. Having beaten three of the big four sides this year and they missed out on two points to tenth placed Salford and to me, that looks like a slippery slope to be on.
A victory in the Challenge Cup semi-final against Warrington next month would go an extremely long way to building their confidence and I think that Huddersfield can win as long as they can do what Harlequins have done and make it until the very end with as much spirit and determination. If Huddersfield are ever going to do it, this is definitely year for them.