The standout statistics behind Huddersfield Giants’ win at Leigh Leopards as veterans make difference

Ben Olawumi
Chris Hill

Huddersfield Giants' Chris Hill in action against Leigh Leopards in Round 1 of the 2024 Super League season - Alamy

Huddersfield Giants’ opening round win at Leigh Leopards last night wasn’t one for the ages, but thanks to some older heads shining, Ian Watson’s side headed back over the Pennines with two points on the board.

The Giants ended the evening 16-8 winners at the Leigh Sports Village in a game where there was little to split the two sides, in truth.

There were 28 errors in a stop-start Round 1 encounter, 13 for the Leopards and 15 for the visitors, with debutant Elliot Wallis‘ try late on nudging them ahead on the try-count, coming out on top 3-2 in that aspect.

Without Wallis‘ try, which wasn’t converted, Huddersfield would still have claimed the victory thanks to some lacklustre efforts with the boot from Leigh’s Zak Hardaker, twice off-target to miss out on four points.

Nonetheless, it wasn’t like the Giants were rampant throughout in attack, anything but. They actually had 11 fewer play-the-balls in Leigh’s last 20 metres than vice versa, fewer attacking kicks and a lower amount of completed sets.

Instead, while they managed to take three opportunities to get over the line, it was their defence which won them the game with some stalwarts stepping up and being counted, as we look at below.

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Veterans make difference in Huddersfield Giants’ opening round win at Leigh Leopards

Time and time again, Leroy Cudjoe shows exactly why he’s still playing top flight rugby league at the age of 35.

2024 is his 17th consecutive season in the Giants’ senior setup, and the stalwart last night slotted in seamlessly at loose, displaying the grit and determination needed to come out on top in a game like that throughout.

Leroy Cudjoe
Huddersfield Giants’ Leroy Cudjoe in action against Leigh Leopards in Round 1 of the 2024 Super League season – Alamy

Topping the Giants’ tackle count (43), boss Watson praised him post-match, saying: “Developing at 35, isn’t he!?

“I can’t speak highly enough of Leroy, he’s been out on the wing, in the centre, in the halves for us, he’s been in the back-row last year and he was killing it there for us.

“Playing at loose tonight too, he just gives us that little bit of difference, he’s perfect for the club. A real champion. We need more of those performances from him.”

And Cudjoe – who played 48 minutes before taking a breather – wasn’t alone in putting in a real shift.

Another veteran in hooker Adam Milner made 39 tackles, as well as chipping in with a try at the other end, deceiving three Leopards to dive over from dummy-half towards the end of the first half, wriggling his way onto his side to get the ball down.

We know it’s not a huge difference, but nine Huddersfield men made 20 or more tackles on the night to Leigh’s eight, with an overall tackle count of 344-338 in the visitors’ favour overall.

More notable is the missed tackle count, with Leigh’s 31 come the end of the night eight higher than the Giants’ 23.

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Huddersfield chief Ian Watson highlights ‘outstanding defence’, details desire that ‘comes from within’ players

Post-match, Watson sung the praises of his side’s defensive efforts, saying: “One thing we’ve spoken about this year is being a little bit more hungry, working hard for each other, and I thought the boys did that today.

“I thought our defence was outstanding and I thought our middles were phenomenal. The work they did was outstanding because they’ve got some real good players there Leigh trying to test you, but our guys stood up to the test today, I thought they were real good.

“I think it comes from within. Every coach is going to want his players to work as hard as they can, and some you’ll never need to ask or tell.

Ash Golding, Jack Murchie, Gareth O'Brien
Huddersfield Giants duo Ash Golding (left) & Jack Murchie (right) tackle Leigh Leopards’ Gareth O’Brien in their Round 1 clash – Alamy

“You’ll never need to go knocking on Ash Golding‘s door, for example, and tell him you need him to work harder because he just does that naturally.

“You’ve got to get players in the mindset to do it though. Being a part of a team, it is a big thing for the guys because then they’ve got something more to work for.

“I thought they were great at it today, and it comes from within them. That’s all them, they made the choice to do it today.”

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A ‘Marstersclass’ in getting your side up the field from Esan

Like hooker Milner, centre Esan Marsters‘ gritty performance also saw him open his 2024 account with a try, grabbing the opener with a little over 10 minutes on the clock.

It came in somewhat fortunate circumstances as Jake Connor‘s flick back came off the knee of Leigh’s Tom Briscoe for him to flick back up into Marsters’ hands and allow the Cook Islands international to fall over the line.

But in the rest of the contest, Marsters more than levelled things out to show that he’d earned that bit of fortune, making 150 metres, the most of any Giants player.

Only Leopards prop Robbie Mulhern (159) made more metres on the night, the only opponent anywhere near the figure racked up by Marsters.

The aforementioned Cudjoe also made over 100 metres in his time on the field, with winger Adam Swift as influential as ever in terms of metre making on his Huddersfield debut, even though we didn’t see a trademark try at the LSV.

Overall, it’s another close-run story when it comes to metres made, a very narrow swing in favour of Watson’s side, 1176-1208.

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Jack Murchie: Man of the Match on debut

It was a difficult game to pick a standout player from, but with every game now live on Sky Sports for the foreseeable, someone had to!

Kyle Amor‘s pick was another of the Giants’ debutants in Jack Murchie, brought over from the NRL in the off-season, and the statistics back up a sterling showing from the Australian.

Jack Murchie
Huddersfield Giants debutant Jack Murchie pictured with his Man of the Match medal after their opening round win at Leigh Leopards – Alamy

The second-rower didn’t shy away throughout the 80 minutes in either defence or attack, making 29 tackles to help keep the Leopards out and 137 metres going forwards.

Indeed, an 11-metre average gain was only bettered by Leigh’s Edwin Ipape, whose data will be skewed given he only played circa 10 minutes before being forced off with an injury.

An enjoyable debut for Murchie then, and the rest of his team-mates, with the task now to build on that as they host St Helens next Saturday (February 24) in Round 2.

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