THERE will be some nervous folk at Huddersfield Giants after the club’s four-game unbeaten run was brought to a shuddering halt with this woeful loss at Salford Red Devils.
For all their opponents have been Super League’s surprise package this term, moving back up to second with this victory after losing their last three, some of the West Yorkshire’s defence was alarmingly poor as they fell away badly yesterday.
Rick Stone’s side looked to be well on course for securing a top-eight place with their recent revival but, after being destroyed by classy half-backs Robert Lui and Michael Dobson yesterday, they are certainly still far from safe from the Qualifiers.
Error-prone Huddersfield, who saw Australian full-back Jordan Rankin make a steady debut, were 36-10 down before the hour mark and slipped to eighth, just two points above Catalans Dragons in ninth with three games to go.
However, their next two fixtures are both at home to the competition’s bottom two - Widnes Vikings on Friday and Leigh Centurions a week later - so they will only have themselves to blame if they slump further from here.
England winger Jermanine McGillvary was a surprise omission due to a slight injury but Giants arguably missed the organisational quality of injured half-back Martyn Ridyard more especially in the face of Lui and Dobson’s obvious quality.
The game started in surreal fashion with Salford’s Gareth O’Brien sending the kick-off sailing out on the full and then, remarkably, three players being taken off for head injury assessments inside a brutal opening five minutes.
There was nothing untoward about any of the challenges but the groggy trio of Salford’s Ben Murdoch-Masila and Logan Tomkins along with Huddersfield prop Sebastine Ikahihifo all had to depart for checks.
Unfortunately, for Giants, Murdoch-Masila was the only one deemed fit enough to return.
The giant Aucklander duly came back to do to them what he has been doing to Super League defences all season - terrorise.
It was his bullocking run and smart offload that punched the initial hole in Huddersfield as Salford produced a stunning try in the 27th minute, winger Greg Johnson finding a splendid pass of his own for former Hull KR centre Kris Welham to scurry infield to the posts.
Dobson added his third conversion for an 18-6 lead and, the manner in which his side were promoting the ball - and Giants coughing it up - suggested things could descend into farce for the visitors.
Lui, in particular, was influential, the muscular Australian stand-off who signed a new deal last week, causing Stone’s side all sorts of problems with his short-kicking game, direct running and excellent distribution.
Dobson alongside him kept pinning Huddersfield back, too, but Danny Brough, as is so often the case, came up with some much-needed plays to give the West Yorkshire side a chance.
The veteran stand-off produced a trademark 40/20 to relieve the pressure and, from there, fired a brilliant long cut-out pass to send Aaron Murphy in untouched at the corner in the 35th minute.
Another Brough assist had seen them go 6-0 ahead in the sixth minute although that score was mainly down to the strength of Leroy Cudjoe, the England centre who forced his way over from close range off the half-back’s pass.
Soon after, Huddersfield showed tremendous resilience to defend four consecutive sets on their own line, clearly frustrating Salford who, during that spell, also created a number of overlap situations but botched each one.
Having scrambled so well, it was a surprise, then, that Huddersfield did splinter so easily thereafter.
Junior Sa’u scored Salford’s opening try in the 21st minute. Next, Lui easily left Alex Mellor beaten in his path before charging over Rankin for their second before, in the next set, Salford’s right edge combined seamlessly for that classic third try.
In between, the visitors simply did not protect the ball well enough, the worst example coming after that third score when Nathan Mason foolishly tried offloading on his own 20m line and only served to hand the ball to Salford’s Weller Hauraki.
After Murphy’s try, Dobson let Huddersfield off the hook by missing a simple penalty from 15m out almost in front of the posts.
Bizarrely, he sliced a simple conversion attempt, too, after O’Brien chimed into the line and easily bumped off Cudjoe to cross in the 45th minute.
However, the former Hull KR scrum-half soon atoned and went on to punish Giants mercilessly in the second period with two quality 40/20 kicks leading directly to two more tries.
Sa’u went over for his second, again far too easily, Johnson added another score when Cudjoe spilled before Dobson’s next 40/20 saw the marauding Murdoch-Masila power through Mellor, again, for a 36-10 advantage.
After Aaron Murphy limped off, Kruise Leeming responded for the visitors with a try in the 66th minute and there was a late effort for Darnell McIntosh but that was scant consolation following a bitterly disappointing display.
Salford Red Devils: O’Brien; Johnson, Welham, Sa’u, Evalds; Lui, Dobson; Tasi, Tomkins, Kopczak, Murdoch-Masila, Jones, Flanagan. Substitutes: Griffin, Brining, Krasniqi, Hauraki.
Huddersfield Giants: Rankin; McIntosh, Cudjoe, Mellor, Murphy; Gaskell, Brough; Wakeman, Leeming, Ikahihifo, Roberts, Ferguson, Hinchcliffe. Substitutes: Rapira, Ta’ai, Clough, Mason.
Referee: Phil Bentham (Warrington)