HERO. Villain. Villain again. And maybe hero once more.
It’s hard to quite define the input of Huddersfield Giants captain Danny Brough following a quite remarkable Super League fixture last night.
However, that is perhaps the sheer beauty of this maverick talent and rugby league itself.
The upshot of it all is that Huddersfield have, at last, ended their 10-match losing streak against Warrington yet only courtesy of a draw.
Paul Anderson’s side really should have departed Halliwell Jones Stadium with both points that would have catapulted them from sixth up to second in the table with just a couple of regular rounds remaining.
That said, they were trailing 24-23 until Brough, the Scotland captain, slotted his second drop goal of a dramatic match with just 39 seconds remaining.
The problem was his side had also been leading 23-6 after 56 minutes having brought last season’s beaten Grand Finalists to their knees.
Brough, though, had missed a simple conversion to Jodie Broughton’s sensational 70m try at the start of the second period, and it looked like that would cost them dearly as Warrington, with three tries in eight minutes, produced a stunning fightback.
Gareth O’Brien converted Ben Harrison’s second try in the 65th minute to put Warrington 24-23 ahead and it could have been more if Leroy Cudjoe had not got across to pressure Rhys Evans, the home winger who was stretchered off after injuring his neck diving for the corner.
Stand-off Brough had already blown one chance to hit back, breaking brilliantly only to throw an awful pass to Aaron Murphy, but his side had one last chance.
Moments after being named man-of-the-match, Warrington hooker Michael Monaghan saw his short pass from dummy-half somehow intercepted by marker Cudjoe and, a few tackles later, Brough held his nerve.
Even then there was more drama to come, Monaghan claiming Cudjoe made a voluntary tackle by hitting the deck as the hooter sounded.
Huddersfield – missing late withdrawals Brett Ferres and Joe Wardle – had seemed intent on making life hard for themselves from the off consistently making handling errors early in sets to invite Warrington in.
Chris Bailey, Jermaine McGillvary and Shaun Lunt were all guilty of such offences as the visitors struggled for any foothold in the contest.
It was testament to their excellent defence, however, that they conceded just one try – O’Brien’s – during such relentless pressure and they responded, just as Warrington would do in the second period, with three tries in eight minutes.
Bailey got them back in it with their first real venture into the hosts’ 20, the Australian latching on to Brough’s clever dinked kick and capitalising after Michael Monaghan could only get a hand to the ball and slow its progress down.
Brough improved from in front of the posts and did so soon after, too, when Ukuma Ta’ai notched their second.
Trent Waterhouse, the experienced Australian second-row, spilled in the re-start set coming out of his own end under pressure from Cudjoe.
From there, Bailey was held up over the line but Luke Robinson’s kick was charged down by Chris Hill and Huddersfield got another shot, Lunt quickly ushering Ta’ai over from close range.
Anderson’s side seemed transformed.
Cudjoe, the England centre back in action after missing three games through injury, was devastating down the right, running onto a long Robinson pass to scatter defenders before finding McGillvary with a wonderful flick pass.
The winger kicked on and, after O’Brien battled to hack dead, Huddersfield scored again from the resultant drop-out,
Lunt showing great strength to drive over their line and somehow touch down for Brough to make it 18-6 on the half-hour.
Excellent hooker Lunt scampered away, too, in the closing seconds of the half, for Brough to slot his first drop goal.
Warrington were booed off at the interval but they have recovered from bigger half-time scorelines than 19-6 before.
However, any hopes of fightbacks seemed over when Broughton scored following some brilliance from Lunt who mopped up Richie Myler’s kick in the shadow of his own posts, beat the England scrum-half with some footwork to find space and then sent his winger racing in untouched.
Brough missed the simple conversion attempt, but no-one then could have imagined just how costly it might be.
Ryan Atkins gave Warrington hope after latching onto O’Brien’s grubber in the 57th minute.
He improved and, crucially, his side scored again just five minutes later, Brough – harshly – being called up for a knock-on when tackling Michael Monaghan.
There was no excuse for the weak defence, though, as Harrison barged through Cudjoe and then Michael Lawrence to cross, O’Brien kicking both times.
However, there was more to come still as the the big forward charged onto a short ball 10m from the Huddersfield line.
He had no right to score yet twisted through Bailey, Lunt, Ta’ai and Grix. Anderson winced. O’Brien put Warrington ahead.
This, though, was not over.
Warrington Wolves: Russell, Ormsby, Atkin, J. Monaghan, R. Evans, O’Brien, Myler, Hill, M. Monaghan, Harrison, Waterhouse, Westwood, Grix. Substitutes: Higham, Wood, Laithwaite, England.
Huddersfield Giants: Grix, McGillvary, Cudjoe, Murphy, Broughton, Brough, Robinson, Crabtree, Lunt, Kaufusi, Patrick, Lawrence, Bailey. Substitutes: Kopczak, Faiumu, Ta’ai, Fairbank.
Referee: Ben Thaler (RFL).