Eorl Crabtree is Huddersfield Giants through and through. The Cleethorpes-born former England prop was a one-club man, playing 423 games across 17 seasons for the Giants in a stellar career.
Since retiring in 2016, ‘Big Eorl’ has much involvement in Huddersfield still, though it’s not your typical post-career role in coaching, with the 40-year-old taking on a position within the business side of the club.
Speaking exclusively to Serious About Rugby League, Crabtree spoke about the difficulties he’s had in the role in attracting people to invest in a rugby league club that is constantly striving to persuade people to take an interest within a football dominating city – that despite Huddersfield being the birthplace of our great game.
“I’m very much still involved at the club,” said Crabtree. “I look after sponsors and hospitality and I’m the main point of contact between the club and the club’s main sponsor, a deal I was able to sort out.
“I created my own role at this club to a certain degree. I became a club ambassador straight from the off as I didn’t really have much interest in the coaching side.
“For me it is a great source of self-pride and I’m very proud to bring some money into the club. It’s a role I’ve been doing for four years, having been retired six years.
“I’m very happy to be still representing the club. I’ve always been more interested in the revenue the sport makes, the business side of things has always been my passion.
“It fascinates me to see different trends in the sport, which I’ve seen in my time in this role. For example, we’ve brought in more solicitors in during recent years which has been a bit of a game-changer.
“The bottom line is though that I’ve got a phone on my desk, and it doesn’t ring. It’s us that has to ring people and to chase people, it’s important for our sport that we constantly keep doing this because it’s a sport that needs money, and each club needs money.”
Crabtree is clearly passionate about not just his club, but rugby league in general as the sport arrives at a real crossroads with IMG coming in to try improve things both on and off the field.
Speaking on if he feels the introduction of IMG will help grow Super League, with a real focus on improving stadia, facilities and finances, Crabtree is under no illusions that this is a change that is very much needed.
“It’s no secret that we need to expand because in its current state the sport is struggling to be sustainable. If you compare where we are now as a sport to 20 years ago, it’s shocking, it’s absolutely shocking how little we have progressed.
“I think it will change with IMG coming in. They have to make big changes because I think every club is very concerned with the current state of the competition.
“Saying that you can really see the potential in certain areas where the sport is doing some really good things. You just have to look at the PDRL, Wheelchair and Women’s game to see that.
“Change is good. Rugby league needs a kick up the backside and for me it all starts with the commercial side, because that’s where the money comes from which will allow us to invest and improve in those areas where most clubs are falling short.
“IMG are important to the success of the sport long term. The massive thing for our game is to be on TV as much as possible, because the more we are on TV, especially terrestrial TV, the more viewers, new fans and sponsors we will attract.
“IMG need to create new opportunities for the sport and work closely with the clubs to give us a better understanding of how we can achieve that. I think it is an exciting time for rugby league in this country.”
Much closer to home, Crabtree is still hopeful Huddersfield can challenge for silverware this season despite a tough start to the season that has seen them win just four of their eleven Super League games to date.
Crabtree believes the fact that ‘nobody is bothered’ about winning the League Leaders’ Shield means that simply finishing in the playoff places gives them a chance come the end of the season, because they have ‘a better squad’ than the team that finished third and reached a Challenge Cup Final in 2022.
Speaking on his expectations for this season, Eorl said: “I’d be disappointed if we didn’t finish top four with the squad that we’ve got. There’s no excuse really with some of the players we have at the club.
“I’m firmly of the belief that we’ve got a better squad this year. The team on paper is really strong, but it’s about getting them playing together as a unit because we know it’s not won on paper.
“At the end of the day, the League Leaders’ Shield isn’t the one that people want, it’s the Grand Final or Challenge Cup and there is no reason why we can’t challenge for both because it’s as open a competition as it’s ever been – I don’t think there is a standout team this season even though you would still make St Helens favourites given their big-game experience.”
Going into more detail on the current situation at the Giants, Crabtree revealed that he feels sorry for head coach Ian Watson because of the pressure on him to succeed with the star-studded squad he has assembled.
“There’s so much pressure on Ian and in a way I do feel sorry for him. That may sound a weird thing to say because he’s had a lot of freedom to choose the squad he wants, that is some coach’s dream, but of course that brings more pressure.
“He has chosen this squad though so there are no excuses. If results start to go the other way and it’s a squad you have chosen, it leaves you in a bit of a situation with nowhere to go, but he is a top class coach, he just needs the players he has to gel, stick to the game plan and play to the best of their ability.
“There is a lot of pressure on Ian this season. This isn’t an aim of just finishing in the top half of the league, we’re talking about silverware here and as good as that feels that expectation is so high, the club needs to deliver some success with a major trophy.
“These are players are going to be disappointed with anything that falls short of silverware. Success has to be silverware this season. Having got so close last season, and with Ian himself reaching both majore finals and losing in recent years, both the players and coach are desperate to go that next step and win something.”