THE relief was palpable as Huddersfield Giants safely negotiated the challenge of Championship part-timers Featherstone Rovers yesterday and earned Rick Stone’s first win in four games since taking over.
The threat of relegation is already real enough in the Qualifiers but having seen one Championship side – Leigh Centurions – beat Super League Salford Red Devils on Saturday, the stakes have suddenly got higher for all top-flight teams involved.
That 32-26 result quickly increased the possibility of not one but two Super League sides being involved in the Million Pound Game to avoid demotion next month.
It was, therefore, imperative Huddersfield quickly returned to winning ways.
They did so with some ease in the end but not before their opponents had made life hard for them during a tight opening half-hour when Jon Sharp’s side trailed just 12-6.
“There is a bit of relief for sure,” admitted Stone.
“We’d been close a little bit but were really disappointed on how we got outplayed (by Salford) last week so we concentrated on ourselves here, trying to stick to something pretty simple.
“We managed to score some tries but at this point in time it’s about winning some games.
“We’ve won one and hopefully now can grab some confidence; the squad have been up and down a massive rollercoaster this year and the best antidote for where we are is to win some games.
“There was a slight change of mentality and things looked a lot better I wanted us to be a bit more physical; I reckon we’ve been a bit too nice in the games that I’ve seen but our pack was aggressive here and we didn’t complicate matters too much.”
Having lost at Salford themselves the previous week, it only shows how capable Leigh are, the ambitious club who have now won both their Qualifiers games so far and will fancy adding a third victory at Featherstone next Sunday.
“It does add pressure for all the Super League sides,” admitted Stone. “How they started and how they competed against Salford is a fair and true reflection of where they are at; they will compete really hard in these next few weeks and I don’t know where it is going to go but it puts a bit of pressure on everyone. Salford were great against us last week but Leigh denied them a win and that was really important.”
Having been put on a red alert by that earlier result, this was a much-needed victory for the Fartowners who were missing Danny Brough through suspension.
They looked like making hard work of it as Featherstone, at first, protected their line quite well early on. Giants, for their part, appeared laboured and disjointed, much like a side that had lost their last four games.
However, once they had overcome their initial problems and, crucially, scored two tries in quick succession just before the break for a 28-6 interval lead, there was no looking back.
Featherstone, who have the best defence in the Championship, were made to pay for all their first-half exertions.
They had spilled the ball in three successive sets in the early part of game and that clearly told towards the back end of the contest as the hosts ran in 10 tries.
Oliver Roberts, Ryan Brierley, Kyle Wood and Ukuma Ta’ai all got braces after Michael Lawrence opened the scoring on 14 minutes, captain Ryan Hinchcliffe rounding it off in the 77th.
Jamie Ellis finished with nine goals but it was the hooker Wood who really pepped Huddersfield up off the bench while Roberts also enjoyed a fine game.
Featherstone’s best spell was when stand-off Kyle Briggs earned back-to-back drop-outs with two well-placed grubber kicks in the first period.
That eventually saw him usher over second-row John Davies for a neat try in the 25th minute, Briggs adding the first of his two conversions for 12-6.
But they could not build on that as sloppy errors haunted them and things were made tougher in the second period when Davies was yellow-carded for dissent.
That said, the semi-professional outfit, who had also conceded 62 points against Leeds Rhinos in their first game, showed character to score their third try through Ian Hardman when down to 12 men, Luke Briscoe having crossed, too.
Featherstone coach Jon Sharp, making his first return to Huddersfield since being sacked in 2008, said: “We only completed one out of our first five sets and, though we defended that well, that effort eventually gets you energy-wise.
“It showed as Huddersfield executed really well but there was some phases of the game where we went well and showed we’re capable.”
Huddersfield Giants: Connor; Ormsby, Cudjoe, Wardle, Murphy; Brierley, Ellis; Crabtree, Hinchcliffe, Huby, Ta’ai, Lawrence, Ikahihifo. Substitutes: Wood, Rapira, Mason, Roberts.
Featherstone Rovers: Hardman; Duckworth, Tagg, Taulapapa, Briscoe; Briggs, Craven; Baldwinson, Thackery, Bostock, Snitch, Davies, Walters. Substitutes: Ellis, Griffin, Cooper, Ormondroyd.
Referee: G Hewer (Whitehaven).