FRUSTRATED Huddersfield Giants were ousted from the top of Engage Super League by champions Wigan Warriors last night and given a valuable lesson in what it needs to become genuine contenders in this competition
Nathan Brown’s side trailed just 12-6 with seven minutes to go of a compelling encounter and dominated the second period but wasted a host of chances to out-gun a weakened Wigan side and were made to pay for their profligacy at the death.
Some outstanding defence from Michael Maguire’s men, missing eight first-teamers, and a vintage performance from 19-year-old winger Josh Charnley, who cut his teeth on loan at Hull KR last season, combined to see Giants denied.
Ironically, Huddersfield had struggled to impose themselves at all in the opening quarter, Wigan proving too dominant and structured while the hosts’ kicking game was ineffective.
The visitors scored inside three minutes. Jamie Simpson was perhaps harshly penalised for pulling at the leg of Sean O’Loughlin – the Wigan captain had barely hit the ground – and in the next set it was the aggrieved who went over.
Thomas Leuluai’s hanging crossfield kick was well received by Charnley who also showed great thoughtfulness to get the ball back infield where it bounced perfectly for O’Loughlin. Charnley, taking over kicking duties in the absence of injured Paul Deacon, slotted the kick and went on to be involved crucially throughout.
Huddersfield, who handed a debut to ex-Bradford centre Joe Wardle, 19, had just one genuine opportunity in that first quarter when they spread it wide on the last tackle and Kevin Brown’s flighted pass sent Leroy Cudjoe racing away from 40 metres.
The England centre had Scott Grix charging up in support on his inside but opted to look for the well-marked Simpson on the wing who was subsequently bundled into touch by Charnley.
Amos Roberts almost created a second try for Wigan on the quarter mark when his cut-out pass fooled the Huddersfield left-side releasing Darrell Goulding who kicked back infield, the bobbling ball just bouncing dead before Roberts could capitalise.
Giants’ David Fa’alogo made a relieving break from deep but was just hauled in by Leuluai before the Wigan defence scrambled expertly to deny first Luke O’Donnell and then, courtesy of an outstanding Stefan Marsh tackle, Lee Gilmour.
England hooker Luke Robinson – back from shoulder and elbow surgery – came on in the 22nd minute and scored a try with only his second touch.
Brough’s towering kick caused all manner of problems for Roberts, the Tongan winger playing at full-back in Sam Tomkins’s absence, who grew increasingly jittery under the high ball.
He bizarrely let it bounce behind his own posts, Gilmour could not pick up the pieces but it also wickedly eluded Goulding to land in Robinson’s grasp.
Brough levelled with his conversion and he quickly heaped more pressure on Roberts with a series of spiralling kicks which all ended in the same result – Huddersfield possession.
They could not make the most of it though. Brough’s dinked grubber saw Cudjoe get over the line but the ubiquitous Charnley poked the ball from his grasp and when Roberts coughed up another kick, O’Donnell got the merest of fingers to it meaning Brough’s run-in was ruled out by video referee Ian Smith.
Roberts’s night got worse as his forced pass saw a promising Wigan position wasted, bouncing in front of Marsh and behind Goulding into touch, although Charnley’s 38th-minute penalty after Brown was deemed not square nudged his side back in front for a lead they never lost.
Just three minutes after the re-start, Charnley then scored an outrageous try himself.
Lee Mossop made the initial burst and then O’Loughlin’s kick seemed just like a standard boot to the corner for his side to chase and defend.
However, the ball seemed to hang for an eternity and suddenly the youngster sped into view to collect it on the full falling over the line while a stunned Simpson was still trying to get back into position.
He could not improve the effort but his determined side’s defensive steel meant Huddersfield would never recover.
Charnley got back to defuse a tricky Scott Grix kick which Simpson was hunting down.
Simpson got over soon after but Smith rightly spotted a knock-on when the Australian took possession.
Moments later, Wigan were also denied a score, Roberts’ effort, typically for him, chalked off after Smith deemed Harrison Hanesen had obstructed.
Huddersfield then dominated but to no avail. Roberts did brilliantly to hold up a twisting Grix, David Faiumu stepped through but Robinson could not take his slip pass before Brough’s wasted another chance with a poorly executed delivery to David Hodgson.
Cudjoe then bombed an overlap when they seemed certain to score and further chances were missed.
Wigan finally escaped their own half and annoyingly the hosts gifted Charnley a 73rd-minute penalty after Shaun Lunt lazily flopped on Mossop.
That took the sting out of Huddersfield and Ryan Hoffman confirmed victory three minutes from time when he finished off Charnley’s raid down the left, the creator slotting another goal.
Huddersfield Giants: Grix; Simpson, Cudjoe, Wardle, Hodgson; Brown, Brough; Mason, Lunt, Griffin, Gilmour, Fa’alogo, O’Donnell. Substitutes: Robinson, Faiumu, Crabtree, Horne.
Wigan Warriors: Roberts; Goulding, Marsh, Carmont, Charnley; O’Loughlin, Leuluai; Prescott, McIilorum, Coley, Hansen, Hoffman, Farrell. Substitutes: Lima, Mossop, Tuson, Mellor.
Referee: B Thaler (Wakefield)