THE lights went out on yet another Huddersfield Giants play-off campaign – and that was before Catalan Dragons even caused this latest carnage.
Last night’s game at John Smith’s Stadium almost did not go ahead after a major power cut around an hour before kick-off.
How Huddersfield, who frustratingly miss out on a Grand Final tilt yet again and have won just three of their 14 play-off matches, must wish the game had been postponed.
Instead, admittedly after agreement between all parties, the preliminary semi-final started on time in near darkness with only half the ground’s floodlights in working order. How ironic, then, that, as the PA announcer revealed, the game-night sponsor was an electrical firm?
Full power was restored after 14 minutes and with Huddersfield competing hard at 4-4 yet, by the end, Paul Anderson’s dejected side were left utterly powerless as the spirited Catalans – who finished seventh and won their opening play-off at Leeds Rhinos a week ago – completed a famous victory to move to within just 80 minutes of a maiden Grand Final.
For crippled Huddersfield, the 2013 League Leaders’ Shield winners, this is the third time in six years they have lost successive play-off games to slip out of the competition.
It is becoming a worrying habit. They finished third, just a point behind leaders St Helens – who used their ClubCall to select Catalan for their home semi on Thursday – but conspired to let an eminently winnable position disappear once more.
Granted, it was a vast improvement on the 57-4 mauling at Wigan Warriors last week, the champions who will now host Warrington Wolves next Friday for a place in the Grand Final.
Anderson made major personnel changes after that horror show and got the requisite lift in energy, desire and cohesion but it was still not enough as Ben Pomeroy scored a 68th-minute try to secure the visitors a lead that, for all Huddersfield captain Danny Brough’s increased promptings, could not be clawed back.
Amid the initial gloom, Jodie Broughton – one of those to benefit from Anderson’s decision to cull four players after the Saints debacle – certainly deserved some spotlight.
The Huddersfield winger pulled off a desperate tackle to rip possession from Michael Oldfield just as the Catalan flier seemed certain to score inside the opening 60 seconds.
Then, with just three minutes gone, Broughton was at the other end scoring after some crisp passing from Danny Brough and Joe Wardle.
Catalan hit back when Vincent Duport’s lovely pass sent Daryl Millard in at the corner.
When the lights returned, it was Catalan who took the lead in the 20th minute as the excellent Yorkshireman Elliott Whitehead unleashed Oldfield who evaded a poor defensive attempt from Aaron Murphy, ironically preferred to Scott Grix at full-back for his fortitude in such areas.
Bosc converted but Anderson’s side replied when another superb defensive effort swiftly turned into a Huddersfield try.
It was Joe Wardle, this time, who denied second-row Whitehead at the last, wreathing the ball clear before emerging at the other end to scythe through off Shaun Lunt’s clever pass and put Murphy over.
Brough converted and then chipped over to give Broughton another chance, Oldfield fortunate not to be yellow carded for clearly taking out the winger.
From the penalty, Brough - back after missing two games with a ruptured testicle - then had his head in his hands when Leroy Cudjoe somehow spilled over the line when latching onto his delicate slide-rule grubber.
Broughton was cruelly denied again when his brilliant 80m run – after defusing Bosc’s crossfield kick – was rubbed off due to Wardle taking out his former Bradford team-mate Whitehead off the ball. Bosc, instead, slotted the penalty for a 12-10 advantage on 46 minutes and, when Brough was twice penalised for running behind his own man in good positions, frustrations began to grow in the home faithful.
However, after Brough had forced a repeat set, his own dinked kick brought better rewards on the hour as half-back partner Luke Robinson just managed to dive on the ball before it rolled dead.
Brough’s conversion took it to 16-12 but when the Man of Steel’s mis-timed pass in a repeat set went to ground, Kopczak produced a needless high tackle and Catalan struck.
Broughton could not get to Bosc’s lofted kick and Whitehead - will the in-form ex-Bradford Bull be picked by England coach Steve McNamara next weekend for the Four Nations? -showed real deftness to quickly found Pomeroy for the Australian centre to crash over.
Bosc then held his nerve with the tricky conversion and, though Brough won back a short kick-off, Lunt had white-line fever trying to bundle over on the last tackle when the visitors were well-manned.
Brough dug deep into his box of tricks but Catalan – who prospered here at this stage in 2009 and are now on a five-game winning run – survived everything the stand-off threw at them.
It was a sad way for David Faiumu, the Kiwi with the best sidestep in Super League, to end his seven-year stay at the club but Huddersfield could have few complaints.
After Castleford Tigers’ exit on Thursday, this defeat means it is the first time in Super League history there has been no Yorkshire side in the last four.
Huddersfield Giants: Murphy; McGillvary, Cudjoe, Wardle, Broughton; Brough, Robinson; Kaufusi, Lunt, Kopczak, Ferres, Ta’ai, Bailey. Substitutes: Crabtree, Patrick, Faiumu, Mullally.
Catalan Dragons: Escare; Oldfield, Pomeroy, Duport, Millard; Bosc, Williams; Elima, Henderson, Anderson, Taia, Whitehead, Mounis. Substitutes: Lima, Pelissier, Bousquet, Garcia.
Referee: J Child (Dewsbury).