HUDDERSFIELD RUGBY UNION ARE SERIOUS TITLE CONTENDERS
Huddersfield’s six match unbeaten run has now taken them to third place in the National 2 North table. With the two teams above them faltering of late, both have lost twice since Christmas, they are the in-form team in the division and arguably now favourites to take the title. They currently lie just four points behind league leaders Hull Ionians and only two behind Chester with a game in hand on both. The Huddersfield team has genuine talent across the board and can boast the classic blend of youth and experience. They are well drilled and highly organised, fully committed and have definitely found their mo-jo.
Critically they have experienced players in the key decision making roles. Nowhere more so than at Number 8 where team captain Dickie Piper resides. Piper is a man who leads by example, unashamedly ‘old school’ and never one to take a backward step he creates secure possession and go-forward behind the scrummage. His Vice Captain Lewis Bradley is a back row partner. He is a relentless terrier whose tenacity disrupts the opposition attack and frequently breaches their defensive line. Two former team captains also play in the pack. Alex Battye and Nick Sharpe add stability and maintain shape in front and second row in tight and loose. Back in the fold this season are Tom Hodson at full back and Chris Johnson at fly half. The pair spent recent seasons away from Huddersfield but their return has given the team a tactical edge. Both are astute readers of the game, calm under pressure with the ability to make decisions that can turn defences and set up attacking platforms.
Huddersfield’s two most recent wins serve to underline their title tilting ambition. Against decent teams they have been behind after the opening exchanges but in spite of the early set-backs the team pressed on un-phased with confident purpose. Although spectators may have been surprised at the finality of the turn-around produced the players certainly were not. They are a team with self- belief, a team in the true sense of the word, playing for one another with each man confident in the ability of the man on his shoulder. The togetherness they exhibit has been a key factor in their ability to win games.
Defensively Huddersfield have been solid all season. They have the best points difference in the league and only Chester have conceded fewer points, 349 to Huddersfield’s 356. Tackling across the board has been good and when pressed players have shown great collective resolve and a fierce determination not to concede. Neither are they short of attacking flair out wide. Leading try scorer Kian Stewart, still only 20, recently produced the NCA ‘Try of the Week’ and Elliot Knight and Lewis Workman are amongst others with genuine pace in the three quarter line.
The squad also has depth and Head Coach Gaz Lewis can fill a strong bench. Despite some long term injury problems to key players quality cover for forwards and backs can be turned to during games. Lewis has used his bench wisely throughout the season resting and rotating players and bringing on men to achieve a desired impact. Many of those who have taken to the field to bring about the current run of success have come through the ranks of the club’s Age Grade and Academy sections. Young winger Elliot Spiers became the latest of twelve such players to contribute to it when he made his debut in their last match against Sheffield Tigers.
With a third of the season still remaining much can still happen. National 2 North is proving highly competitive with any team in it capable of beating any other with every week that passes throwing up the odd surprise result. Hull Ionians and Chester have accounted for two of the five defeats that Huddersfield have suffered to date but the margin of defeat in both cases was small. In their present mood Huddersfield will be confident of securing a reversal in the critical return fixtures scheduled for March. A title win for Huddersfield would be a great achievement and elevate them to the third tier of English rugby for the very first time in their history. There is no doubt that as things stand promotion to National 1 is now a very serious prospect.
Richard Sykes, Rugby Union Correspondent.