Australian Simon Woolford eyeing Wembley with Huddersfield Giants

Huddersfield on the attack
Huddersfield on the attack

Australian Simon Woolford takes charge of his first match as a head coach of Huddersfield Giants on Thursday in the knowledge that he is only two wins away from leading his new club out at Wembley.

The 43-year-old former Canberra captain arrived just in time to watch Huddersfield beat Salford 24-16 in round 16 of the Betfred Super League last Friday, a fourth straight win which has promised to transform their season.

Their latest triumph lifted the Giants out of the bottom four for the first time this season and victory over Catalans Dragons in the first Cup quarter-final at the John Smith's Stadium will take them to within 80 minutes of the final.

That would enable him to match the feat of his old Newcastle Knights boss Nathan Brown, who guided the Giants to Wembley in his first year in Super League in 2009 and helped ensure that Woolford knows all about the prestige of the 121-year-old knockout competition.

"I know quite a few people who have been over and played in the English Super League and guys like Browny who have coached over here," Woolford said.

"I'm pretty well aware of how important the Challenge Cup is.

"We've put ourselves in a really good position and to have a quarter-final at home is a bonus."

Woolford, who has spent the last two years working as Brown's right-hand man at the Knights, was appointed as the successor to fellow Australian Rick Stone a month ago and used the delay in obtaining his visa to carry out his homework.

With the aid of Skype he was able to maintain regular contact with interim coach Chris Thorman and another Australian, Mark Andrews, who worked as performance manager under Brown at the Giants and returned six weeks ago for a short-term stint to help the club through their crisis.

"Bumper was on the staff when I played at the Dragons in 2007-08 and he's been over for a month now so he's been able to get cracking with a few changes," Woolford said. "It's worked out well.

"He's implemented quite a few things, particularly with our middles and our ruck defence, and we're just starting to see some fruits of the labour he's put in.

"It's been a good team effort and thankfully the guys have responded and bought into it."

Woolford, who says he plans to introduce subtle changes over the next few weeks in an effort to maintain the team's upward curve, is anticipating a difficult test from the Catalans, who have also begun to improve their fortunes.

"We're playing a team that is in a similar vein to us," he said.

"They've started to turn their season around and they'll be looking at the Challenge Cup the same way we are, as a great opportunity to keep a little bit of momentum going.

"They're definitely going to come to Huddersfield thinking it's a game they can win. They're not going to roll over. We can't afford to start slow like we did last week against Salford."

Huddersfield have lost in-form forward Ukuma Ta'ai to injury but will welcome back captain Leroy Cudjoe from a nine-month lay-off.

"Leroy has ticked all the boxes now and he needs to play some footy now," Woolford said.

"It's great to have him back in the side. We're a better team with him, that's for sure."

The Dragons are waiting for final clearance to give new signing Kenny Edwards his debut.

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