DEPLETED Huddersfield Giants can take great credit for pushing Wigan Warriors so close yesterday – yet will still believe this was a game they should have won.
Coach Paul Anderson was shorn of England second-row Brett Ferres and centre Aaron Murphy after they suffered knee injuries at Magic Weekend as well as full-back Scott Grix who served a one-game ban for a shoulder charge in that draw with Catalans Dragons.
Already missing England centre Leroy Cudjoe due to knee surgery, it meant a rejigged backline with on-loan Wigan second-row Jack Hughes switching from the pack and 19 year-old full-back Jared Simpson – son of former Bradford Northern No 1 Roger Simpson – coming in to make an eye-catching debut.
They also lost loose forward Josh Johnson to injury after just 13 minutes yet were competitive and challenging throughout against a Wigan side that has now won seven of their last eight Super League teams.
Indeed, the West Yorkshire club will point to a glorious chance wasted when 12-6 up towards the end of first half, the otherwise impressive Joe Wardle botching a scoring opportunity, as a moment that potentially swung the contest.
Instead, Liam Farrell, the England second-row back from a broken nose, scored the first of his two tries to leave it 12-12 at the break and Shaun Wane’s side, as they so often do, methodically went about their business after the break to seal a league double over the West Yorkshire club.
Simpson, though, showed no signs of nerves whatsoever, rightly earning Huddersfield’s man of the match having scored a fine try with only six minutes on the clock.
After Wardle had ripped possession from George Williams, the youngster took possession down the left 20m out and positively attacked leaving the visiting defence trailing in his wake as he accelerated through.
Danny Brough slotted the first of his three kicks and the hosts quickly set about unnerving Wigan further, a big tackle from Jermaine McGillvary seeing Dan Sarginson spill and Farrell dropping another pass.
Simpson picked up the latter near his own line and duly sparked into life again with a brilliant 50m run that had Wigan defenders struggling once more to get to grips with the teenager.
Huddersfield were well-organised in defence, holding Sean O’Loughlin up as the England captain tried muscling his way over on the last tackle, but they did crack on 17 minutes.
Farrell made the break down the left, slipping Kyle Wood’s tackle, and England winger Joe Burgess finishing off his 17th try of the year.
Matty Smith converted but Matty Bowen saw the restart strangely bounce off his shoulder to offer Huddersfield an immediate chance to respond.
Hughes was held up over the line by Sarginson, though, and Brough dropped Wood’s poor pass to see the chance wasted.
Wigan were fortunate not to have a man yellow carded when Michael McIlorum hit Craig Kopczak late and Taulima Tautai did likewise on Wood before a third visiting player in quick succession – Bowen – was only placed on report for use of the knees.
From that possession, Anderson’s side did capitalise as Brough found the strong-running Wardle arrowing back on a perfect angle for the second-row to force through Smith’s tackle and score from 15m, his captain improving.
Brough forced Larne Patrick into another handling mistake and then sent Wardle through again with a lovely pass but, with support either side, his team-mate this time panicked and crucially delivered an awful pass forward.
It was always likely to be costly and so it proved as, with two minutes of the half remaining, Wigan exposed Huddersfield down their left once more and Farrell finished off Burgess’s good work for Smith to level.
Josh Charnley added their third try five minutes into the second period when former Bradford Bulls second-row John Bateman found some space for Joel Tomkins to send the England winger haring to the corner.
Smith’s conversion attempt hit a post so it meant Giants went ahead when Brough converted the 99th try of his career in the 51st minute. Charnley had challenged for Smith’s hoisted kick but, as Bateman flicked up the loose ball, Brough intercepted and raced 90m.
But Wigan controlled most of the second half without ever pulling too far clear.
Farrell added his second when McGillvary struggled to deal with another Smith kick – Huddersfield argued its legitimacy – and Charnley got his brace after McGillvary had done well to track down the breaking Williams only to see his bedraggled defence unable to cope with Bowen who fed the winger.
Smith missed both conversion attempts but did not fail with a 63rd-minute penalty that gave his side some breathing space and he also improved Bateman’s score after he weaved through.
The defeat means third-placed Wigan have now opened up a five-point lead from Huddersfield in fourth.
Huddersfield Giants: Simpson; McGillvary, Hughes, Connor, Broughton; Brough, Wood; Mullally, Leeming, Huby, Wardle, Lawrence, Johnson. Substitutes: Robinson, Crabtree, Kopczak, Ta’ai.
Wigan Warriors: Bowen; Charnley, J Tomkins, Sarginson, Burgess; Williams, Smith; Mossop, McIlorum, Flower, Bateman, L Farrell, O’Loughlin. Substitutes: Powell, Tautai, Patrick, Sutton.
Referee: J Child (Dewsbury).