HUDDERSFIELD Giants will wake up this morning still wondering how they let this one get away.
Paul Anderson’s side were off the pace last night yet still dominated against Leeds Rhinos.
They lacked, though, the cutting edge and finesse so normally associated with them to get the crucial breakthrough.
Granted, Leeds – who defended doggedly throughout to protect their unbeaten start to the season – could have won it themselves at the close when Kevin Sinfield’s 78th-minute drop-goal attempt struck a post.
There was still time for Danny Brough to miss two more attempts at the other end, but the poor manner in which those situations were set up said plenty about his side’s organisational quality.
They badly require Shaun Lunt, their influential hooker, to return from the ankle injury he is nursing to bring some much-needed balance and clarity to their play.
As it stands, last year’s League Leaders Shield winners have now won just one of their opening four games although, admittedly, this is their second successive home draw after also finishing level with Hull KR.
Irate Huddersfield fans will point to three efforts disallowed by the video officials before they finally awarded one to centre Joe Wardle, whose 68th-minute try looked like being decisive.
But, in fairness, the officials probably got them all correct as did James Child in ruling out another Wardle attempt for a forward pass.
Instead, Joel Moon made a corruscating break to allow Leeds to hit straight back in the 72nd minute, Zak Hardaker adding some class to furnish England centre Kallum Watkins with the try in the corner.
Sinfield could not convert from wide out, unlike Brough earlier, so leaving it at 12-12 and setting up a frantic finale.
Neither side could capitalise, though, and a draw was possibly a fair result.
For all their later pressure, Huddersfield – who saw Jodie Broughton score on his debut and then limp off injured – were worryingly lethargic early on.
Wardle in particular endured a torrid time defensively where ordinarily he is so strong.
It was his missed tackle on Stevie Ward that allowed the young Leeds second-row to score for the first time in 13 months, crashing onto Sinfield’s pass in the sixth minute.
The visitors, playing with real alacrity through the middle, dominated as Huddersfield struggled to control their power and poise.
Fortunately, for Anderson’s side, there was no further damage done to the scoreboard before Eorl Crabtree came off the bench to restore some order.
The England prop’s storming runs gave Huddersfield some momentum and Leeds’s defenders something finally to think about.
After those three attempts were thwarted, they got over at last in the 32nd minute.
Brough’s towering kick was well-taken by Hardaker but the Leeds full-back was ‘sacked’ behind his own line and, though an injury to Carl Ablett slowed the drop-out being taken, it did not give his side enough energy to withstand Huddersfield’s rapier thrust.
Brett Ferres was central, his spin and neat offload in the tackle creating the space for Scott Grix and Wardle to combine to put Broughton over in the left corner.
Brough failed with his touchline conversion attempt and again with a penalty just before the break when Kylie Leuluai desperately dragged down a breaking Wardle but messed around too much at the play-the-ball.
That meant Leeds went in 6-4 up but Huddersfield – who lost at Widnes eight days ago – thought they had gone ahead via Jermaine McGillvary only for the officials to again pull them back for an infringement.
They levelled when Jamie Jones-Buchanan, playing his first game of the season for Leeds, caught Luke Robinson high, Brough kicking his 1,500th Super League point in the 53rd minute.
The visitors, who had lost their last five games against Huddersfield, absorbed yet more pressure before escaping long enough for Sinfield to slot a penalty 11 minutes later then Wardle struck after a rare passage of quality instigated by the artful Robinson.
Broughton, meanwhile, had waited patiently to dislodge incumbent winger Aaron Murphy, but the luckless former Leeds player now faces a spell out with medial knee ligament damage.
Jacob Fairbank was a more surprising inclusion considering he was not even in the original 19-man squad.
Josh Johnson was a late withdrawal, however, while Ukuma Ta’ai was dropped after being late for training, meaning the forward featured in a Huddersfield jersey for only the second time in the last 12 months.
Leeds coach Brian McDermott left out both Ryan Bailey and Chris Clarkson while Jamie Peacock gave a towering 80-minute performance up front.
Huddersfield Giants: Grix, McGillvary, Cudjoe, Wardle, Broughton, Brough, Robinson, Kaufusi, Wood, Kopczak, Ferres, Chan, Lawrence. Substitutes: Crabtree, Bailey, Faiumu, Fairbank.
Leeds Rhinos: Hardaker, Briscoe, Watkins, Moon, Hall, McGuire, Sinfield, Leuluai, Aiton, Peacock, Ward, Ablett, Delaney. Substitutes: Burrow, Jones-Buchanan, Achurch, Singleton.
Referee: J Child (RFL)