In many ways, Jake Connor’s first season back with Huddersfield Giants in 2023 mirrored that of the team itself where expectations were high, but ultimately not met.

The start of Connor’s second chapter at the club he began his professional career with was delayed until late March after undergoing off-season surgery on a microfracture in his knee, and he admits he struggled with his fitness for much of the 2023 campaign where neither he nor the Giants hit the heights expected.

Eight games into the current Betfred Super League season though and Huddersfield are firmly among the play-off contenders as well as having a Betfred Challenge Cup semi-final to look forward to, and their full-back is feeling like he is getting back to his best as well.

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Highlights of Huddersfield Giants’ pulsating 30-24 win over Leeds Rhinos in the Betfred Super League

“I feel like I’m building,” Connor told Sky Sports. “Last year was a struggle for me; it was a new team, I had two operations coming into it and I wasn’t bang at it, and I knew that.

“I was way overweight and credit to Greg Brown, the conditioner, he’s really got me in good shape. I’m feeling better and I’m starting to feel like myself again.

“We’re getting behind my kick with the kick chase, and they’re letting me do that. I’m starting to find my role in the team, and I want to get back to how I was a couple of years ago.”

That was during Connor’s spell with Hull FC from 2017 to 2022, where he was part of the team which won the Challenge Cup in his first year and was later capped by both England and Great Britain, although he has not earned any sort of international honours for five years.

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Jake Connor 2024 Super League stats

National team head coach Shaun Wane has so far overlooked Connor, who featured for the Combined Nations All Stars in their 26-24 win over England in 2021 representing his Trinidadian heritage, since succeeding Wayne Bennett.

The versatile 29-year-old’s eight England and Great Britain caps under Bennett all came at centre as well and he is unsure what his future holds as far as more international recognition is concerned.

“I don’t know,” Connor said. “There are some wonderful players England have got now.

“I just want to get my form back and when I play with a smile on my face, that’s when I’m at my best.

Picture by Simon Wilkinson/ - 27/10/2018 - International Rugby League Series 2018 - England v New Zealand KCOM Stadium, Hull - England's Jake Connor offloads as he heads into touch against New Zealand.
Image:Jake Connor in action for England in 2018

“I just want to get back to that point where I was a couple of years ago.”

Connor was certainly playing with a smile on his face last Friday, despite incurring the wrath of the South Stand at AMT Headingley after goading them and having several of his missed conversions ironically cheered, as Huddersfield triumphed 30-24 over Leeds Rhinos.

That match saw the visitors have to fight back twice from double-digit deficits before clinching their first win away to the Rhinos since 2018 with Connor’s penalty from a botched goal-line drop-out and Adam Clune’s burst from deep inside his own half snatching victory inside the final four minutes.

The Giants now head to St Helens, who responded to the previous week’s Challenge Cup exit with a thumping 58-0 win at home to Connor’s old club Hull FC in Round 8, and head coach Ian Watson believes his team are still not at their best.

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Huddersfield Giants’ boss Ian Watson felt his side showed resilience in their thrilling win over Leeds Rhinos.

“I think there’s still plenty more in us in terms of what we want to do,” Watson said. “There is improvement in us, and this group has a different mentality.

“They have shown resilience to get through some tough away games and it’s good for us to be winning at a place like Leeds for the first time in six years.”

Watson, who guided Huddersfield to the Challenge Cup final and play-off appearance in his first season in charge at the John Smith’s Stadium, has held off from publicly stating any targets for his team in 2024 beyond week-by-week improvement after last year’s failure to live up to expectations.

Connor understands the reticence to make such pronouncements, although he concedes anything less than being in the top six come the end of the regular season will be seen as a disappointment for the Giants.

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Huddersfield Giants’ Sam Halsall joins Jenna Brooks and Jon Wilkin for this week’s episode of The Bench to talk about his newly-signed contract extension and how he’s trying to become a better barista.

“Play-offs is a minimum for us,” Connor said. “We said that last year and it didn’t quite happen, but we’re building every week and I think we got a bit too ahead of ourselves last year.

“I think we’re taking each game as it comes and big wins like this early on help, and our confidence is growing. We’re not going to get ahead of ourselves, we’ve got Saints next and it’s going to be tough.

“We’ve been more professional this year, we probably took it for granted last year and boys are doing a bit more recovery and video on their own. I think it’s all coming together.”

Round 9 of the Betfred Super League season kicks off on Thursday April 25 with exclusive live coverage of St Helens vs Huddersfield Giants on Sky Sports Action from 7.30pm (8pm kick-off). Watch every Super League match in 2024 live on Sky Sports and stream with NOW.

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