HUDDERSFIELD GIANTS are not known for their play-offs quality given they have only won three such fixtures in their entire Super League history.
Yet of all their many defeats, this – their 10th from 13 games – was by far the worst even, given the circumstances, more demoralising than the 47-0 shambles at Warrington three years ago.
There was always a lingering worry that facing champions and favourites Wigan Warriors would be a challenge too big especially considering they were again without their injured talisman Danny Brough last night.
But few could have predicted such an embarrassing rout as the hosts, admittedly performing at a truly elite level, not only inflicted Huddersfield’s first defeat in eight games but did so in such an emphatic manner.
The sole consolation for Paul Anderson’s side – who finished third behind second-placed Wigan only due to an inferior points difference – is that they get a second chance to reach the semi-finals with a home elimination tie next week.
That, though, could be against Leeds Rhinos.
Wigan, who defeated then leaders Huddersfield away at this stage 12 months ago on the way to the title and are now just 80 minutes from Old Trafford once more, had so much power, pace and poise.
When Liam Farrell touched down for their fourth try you could visibly see the frustration in Brett Ferres.
The Huddersfield second-row clearly had to restrain from booting the ball in front of him into Row Z; he knew this game was already up after barely half an hour. So much worse was to come, though.
Once Matty Smith did next put boot to ball – to slot a fourth kick – his side were 24-0 ahead and helpless Huddersfield had no answer to their utter dominance.
Never flashy or exuberant, Shaun Wane’s side simply executed all the basics of the game with ruthless efficiency.
Their forwards – and backs, too, in fairness – swarmed in defence and gave the visitors few opportunities to see open ground, constantly forcing them back and making them kick from deep.
With Brough in their side, that is not always such a problem but, without him, the Giants had no escape route.
Jake Connor, the Huddersfield captain’s 19-year-old replacement, has a decent hoof but most times his kicks fell down the necks of either Joe Burgess or Matty Bowen who, inevitably, would quickly be starting their side’s set from almost halfway.
That said, Anderson’s side had somehow hung on to keep the first quarter tryless - Smith’s sixth-minute penalty the only score - and, with a rare foray, almost got over themselves only to see Ferres fumble stretching for the line.
There was an increase in their own defensive steeliness, too, but then – after their best such set threatened, for once, to pen Wigan in their own half – all the hard work was swiftly undone.
Scott Grix, the Huddersfield full-back who endured a personal nightmare on his return from a two-game lay-off, misjudged Blake Green’s long kick and, therefore, conceded a 40/20.
From there Green, who delivered a kicking masterclass, forced a drop-out and, when Jermaine McGillvary committed the ‘coach killer’ of conceding a penalty on the last tackle, the visitors finally succumbed, Bowen’s long pass sending Josh Charnley over for his 150th career try.
Wigan added their second in the next set, Smith shrugging off Shaun Lunt and then dummying Grix.
Soon after, Smith’s short pass exploited Huddersfield’s middle once more and Tony Clubb surged through before clubbing his way past Grix’s desperate tackle attempt.
Again they immediately followed up with a try, this time Farrell starting and finishing from deep with great interplay from the excellent centre Dan Sarginson and similarly thrilling young winger Joe Burgess.
Four tries in 12 minutes. No wonder Ferres was fuming.
At least they got a better start to the second period, Leroy Cudjoe marking his 200th career game with an opportunist try barely 90 seconds in.
Connor missed the conversion, though, and Wigan seemed almost affronted.
Smith, the scrum-half showing why he was picked in the Super League Dream Team on Monday, quickly burst clear once more to send Joel Tomkins over for his first try since returning from Saracens rugby union.
Onlooking brother Sam, back in his hometown given New Zealand Warriors’ campaign is now over, raised a glass from one of the hospitality boxes.
This Wigan outfit have certainly adapted well without him this term.
Smith improved and did so again when Sarginson and Bowen grabbed consecutive tries once more.
Charnley ran through Grix for his second, Sean O’Loughlin – such a force in the middle – got a deserved score and then, when Huddersfield did finally reach Wigan’s line, Burgess collected Luke Robinson’s kick and sprinted 100m for his 23rd try in just 25 games.
Smith did miss two successive conversion attempts but made up for that by adding a gratuitous drop-goal in the final seconds of the match.
Wigan Warriors: Bowen; Charnley, Gelling, Sarginson, Burgess; Green, Smith; Flower, McIlorum, Crosby, J Tomkins, L Farrell, O’Loughlin. Substitutes: Powell, Pettybourne, Clubb, Bateman.
Huddersfield Giants: Grix; McGillvary, Cudjoe, Wardle, Murphy; Connor, Robinson; Crabtree, Lunt, Kaufusi, Ferres, Patrick, Lawrence. Substitutes: Kopczak, Faiumu, Ta’ai, Johnson.
Referee: R Silverwood (Mirfield).