CHAOS and outrage reigned at Huddersfield Giants as a baffling decision from referee Phil Bentham left Paul Anderson’s side incredulous.
The official, who had already utilised video referee Ian Smith on five occasions yesterday, opted against doing likewise when ruling Danny Brough’s 79th-minute drop-goal attempt was wide.
The Huddersfield captain was adamant his kick – having, remarkably, had three successive previous attempts charged down – had finally sealed an enthralling Tetley’s Challenge Cup fourth round tie for the gutsy hosts who had played the final 15 minutes with 12 men after Brett Ferres’ red card for an ugly-looking spear tackle on Jonny Lomax.
However, Bentham instantly said otherwise and, just moments later, with only 56 seconds remaining, St Helens’ scrum-half Luke Walsh sent the unbeaten Super League leaders through with his first and only effort.
The drama certainly made riveting viewing for the live BBC audience but that held little sway for Anderson whose side had battled back from an early 8-o deficit to seemingly kick-start their stuttering season.
“It was absolutely over,” fumed the former prop, who actually won the Challenge Cup as a player with Saints in 2006 against his current employers.
“It’s just been shown on TV, hasn’t it? My question is, we go to the video referee for every little decision with regards to points – why couldn’t we go for that?
“We’ve asked the bloke in the van how many times, and if there’s a doubt in any other part of the game, we go to the video referee and ask a question.
“But when there’s an actual match-deciding moment we don’t bother.”
One angle on television made Brough’s kick look like a definite one point although another shot did leave some ambiguity.
Nevertheless, Anderson –whose side have won just twice in eight games this year – said: “Brough’s adamant he’s kicked it.
“I’ve not seen it yet, but I’ll stick with my captain.
“He’s telling me it’s gone over. Some of the decisions that have gone out there… oh my word.
“Sharpy (referees coach Jon Sharp) has got a lot of work to do if you ask me, as have we.
“We were behind the eight ball all the time and whether we’re getting a fair crack of the whip, I’m not sure. That’s all we ask for.
“We did enough to win the game.”
Admittedly, defeat was hard on Huddersfield who, in scrum-half Luke Robinson, had the most dangerous player on the pitch and were well served by Ferres – before his indiscretion – plus two-try Shaun Lunt, Jason Chan and Aaron Murphy, the wing who filled in admirably for England centre Leroy Cudjoe.
Stand-off Brough, though not firing consistently on attack, defended brilliantly as Saints strove to get back into a game that looked like falling away from them.
But the reigning Man of Steel must privately be frustrated none of his three previous attempts were successful in a bizarre sequence of play that included a former winner of that award – Paul Wellens – producing a sensational flying charge-down to deny him.
All the late controversy took away somewhat from the quality of an absorbing encounter.
Saints had started befitting a side on a seven game winning run, full of confidence and vigour.
They were helped by Brough sailing the kick-off dead and, after Walsh’s 40/20, scored the opening try through Adam Swift before Tom Makinson grabbed his first in the 14th minute following a fluent raid from halfway involving six Saints players.
Walsh, though, could not convert either so the hosts were immediately in touching distance when Lunt darted down the blindside for his first in the 27th minute after Murphy’s initial thrust.
Then Robinson’s high crossfield kick saw Joe Wardle outjump the visiting defence for his fourth try of the season and Brough slotted the touchline kick for a 10-8 interval advantage.
That was extended when Lunt supported a fine run from Scott Grix – playing his 200th career game – to cross in the 58th minute. The full-back’s tap-tackle prevented Walsh from racing away soon after but, when the Saints player shoved Michael Lawrence at the play-the-ball, Huddersfield were harshly penalised for retaliation.
A period of sustained pressure followed on their line which, with some inspired defence, they looked like surviving until Ferres’ challenge. Both coaches accept the England second-row intended no malice, and Lomax was uninjured, but it was undoubtedly dangerous.
From the resulting penalty, Makinson produced another smart finish and Walsh converted from the touchline and then levelled the contest with a 74th minute penalty before that mayhem ensued.
Huddersfield Giants: Grix; McGillvary, Murphy, Wardle, Broughton; Brough, Robinson; Crabtree, Lunt, Kopczak, Ferres, Chan, Lawrence. Substitutes: Bailey, Faiumu, Wood, Kaufusi.
St Helens: Lomax; Makinson, Turner, Jones, Swift; Hohaia, Walsh; Amor, Roby, Walmsley, Manu, Flanagan, Soliola. Substitutes: Walker, Wellens, Greenwood, Masoe.
Referee: Phil Bentham (Warrington)