HUDDERSFIELD GIANTS’ coach Paul Anderson must have been thinking his side simply do not listen to a word he utters.
Watching on as his lacklustre players fell 12-0 behind last night, he was understandably shaking his head in disbelief as Wigan’s youngsters threatened to run riot.
Huddersfield had haemorrhaged early points in similar fashion on the way to an embarrassing loss at St Helens last Friday and Anderson, who dropped three forwards for this contest after that debacle, had demanded an improvement in his squad’s attitude. Or at least a solid start.
Yet here they were again looking anything like a team that not only finished top of Super League last season but, before that Saints hiding, had won five successive matches.
Thankfully, off the bench, the likes of Larne Patrick and Ukuma Ta’ai brought some urgency, drive and that old-fashioned commodity of direct running to rouse the hosts from their slumber.
Allied with a few typically smart interventions from Danny Brough, Huddersfield were suddenly heading into the break 18-12 ahead and on their way to completing a league double over the reigning champions who, despite missing nine first-teamers, remained good value.
At kick-off last night, only Brett Ferres remained from the Giants’ pack that had started at Saints and even then the England second-row was shifted to centre for the second period after winger Aaron Murphy suffered in a sickening clash of heads with Joe Burgess just before the interval.
Craig Kopczak and Jason Chan were axed completely, as was prop Anthony Mullally, while Eorl Crabtree, Shaun Lunt and Patrick were moved t0 the bench.
Anderson gave teenage front-row Josh Johnson only his second Super League start, boldly played hooker/back-row David Faiumu at prop and switched Luke Robinson from scrum-half to the nine role while winger Jermaine McGillvary returned for Ben Blackmore.
He had wanted aggression and determination from those selected but there was little of either as Wigan’s youngsters showed all the confidence and ambition that had seen them go on a run that reaped wins in 11 of their previous dozen games.
Swift handling saw Sean O’Loughlin go over in the 12th minute, though Scott Grix’s attempted tackle in halting Dom Manfredi was admittedly poor.
The defence was non-existent, however, when Australian full-back Matty Bowen stepped through some feeble efforts seven minutes later. Matty Smith improved both and Huddersfield were in disarray.
However, Patrick, the dynamic prop who missed three months of action after injuring his knee in their win at Wigan on the campaign’s opening night, straightened things out quite literally.
His purposeful running was key in setting up position for Brough to send out one of his trademark long passes for Murphy to sneak over in the 23rd minute and – after Patrick nearly bulldozed over himself – Lunt twisted through some weak marker defence for their second.
As Wigan’s discipline and control began to wane, the hosts took the lead for the first time in the 33rd minute
Joe Wardle found open space down the left side and, though Manfredi and Burgess dragged the supporting Brough down just short, and Ferres was quickly denied too, Brough’s swift pass put Scotland centre Wardle over at the third attempt.
Brough converted all three and, after his side were let off when Burgess had a ‘try’ ruled out just seconds into the second half, he added another following Wardle’s second.
He had moved to the wing by this point and benefitted handsomely as Ferres’s brilliant one-handed flick pass from a scrum sent him with a clear run from 55m out.
Brough’s drop-goal soon after all but confirmed the win which puts his side up to fifth though Wigan’s desire did not diminish, highlighted when Manfredi lept above Wardle to score on the hour.
A mistake from Burgess, though, enabled McGillvary to sprint in untouched from his own half for the winger’s ninth try of the season, Brough maintaining his 100 per cent record with the boot.
Young winger Burgess atoned for his error by claiming his 13th try of the year in the final moments, Smith improving, but that was the game’s last act.
Huddersfield will be glad to have pulled through this test but they realise they have to improve again if they are to prosper on their next outing, which is a trip to leaders Leeds Rhinos a week on Thursday.
Meanwhile, second-row Liam Johnson, a 17-year-old former England Youth captain who hails from the town, plus teenage prop Tyler Dickinson, both signed Super League contracts with the club at half-time last night after progressing through their scholarship scheme.
Huddersfield Giants: Grix; McGillvary, Cudjoe, Wardle, Murphy; Brough, Wood; Faiumu, Robinson, Johnson, Ferres, Lawrence, Bailey. Substitutes: Crabtree, Lunt, Patrick, Ta’ai.
Wigan Warriors: Bowen; Manfredi, Goulding, Gelling, Burgess; Powell, Smith; Dudson, Williams, Crosby, Bateman, Hughes, O’Loughlin. Substitutes: Taylor, Burke, Hampshire, James.
Referee: Ben Thaler (Wakefield).
Hull KR prop/second-row Jordan Cox, 22, has signed a new two-year deal at Craven Park.