LOW-SCORING games of rugby league can be so deceiving.
Often when a match is held 0-0 for nearly the entire first half, as it was at the John Smith’s Stadium last night, it can be utterly absorbing, captivating, full of high-quality football with defences continually tested and continually passing each examination.
This wasn’t one of those matches.
Huddersfield Giants did just enough to edge victory, tries from Jamie Ellis and Ukuma Ta’ai either side of the break essentially delivering their second victory in succession. However, as the points finally arrived, the quality did not truly ever materialise.
Indeed, rather than be buoyed by their first win against Widnes Vikings here last Friday, in reality, Huddersfield still looked constrained and confused, regardless of how impressive a 22-0 scoreline might look this morning.
That said, at least they are not in Castleford Tigers’ shoes. There is simply no explanation for their dire display.
Just six days earlier, Tigers had been so free-flowing and dynamic when picking up their own maiden victory with a breathtaking 42-14 rout of Wigan Warriors. But the two performances could not have been more dissimilar.
Daryl Powell’s side have gone from the team of 2014 to one that has now managed just one victory from their opening five games.
He described the first half last night as one of the worst 40 minutes of football he had seen in 20 years. Plenty of people will have concurred.
Strangely, considering some of the attacking quality on show last night – Danny Brough and Leroy Cudjoe for Huddersfield, Luke Gale and Luke Dorn for Castleford to name just a few – that first period was almost bereft of any worthwhile action as each side took it in turns to needlessly squander possession.
At one dispiriting low point, it was crying out for someone just to complete a set of six tackles.
When Ellis came up with a moment of class – a perfectly-executed 40/20 – Huddersfield did look like they had scored the first points of the night in the 16th minute.
Referee James Child certainly thought so as he deemed Joe Wardle had touched down but the video officials thought otherwise. There had been another error, the Scotland centre having become the latest player to drop the ball, admittedly getting as close as doing it in the process of getting over Castleford’s line.
Michael Channing had one ruled out at the other end for another fumble and, when Wardle came up with a needless offload under pressure in his own half, Liam Finn’s chip came to nothing.
Justin Carney wonderfully claimed a high ball near his own posts only to then petulantly push out at a Huddersfield player, the sort of pointless indiscretion that has too often peppered the Australian winger’s Castleford career.
This time, though, it mattered little; Ellis knocked on from the resulting penalty.
However, it was Ellis, the scrum-half who has settled well at Huddersfield since leaving Castleford last autumn, who came up with the breakthrough just two minutes before half-time with a score as simply orchestrated as they come.
He threw a dummy and put on a big sidestep that fooled his former colleague Oli Holmes and had a clear 20m run to the line where he then flashed his stomach, perhaps in response to some taunts in the past that he was not the slimmest of players.
Brough converted and then it was the stand-off’s pass that allowed Ta’ai to thunder over in the 44th minute, though Holmes again and Dorn should have done so much better with their defence.
Jermaine McGillvary, the man-of-the-match, showed them how it is done by just getting to Carney to deny a rare Castleford opportunity when the game was still finely balanced at 12-0 10 minutes later.
The hosts admittedly scrambled well on the other side, too, to prevent James Clare getting some foothold in the game for the visitors before Brough, usually so sharp, had his head in his hands when missing a simple drop goal attempt illustrating just the sort of evening this was.
However, he did provide the pass for winger Aaron Murphy to score their third try in the 62nd minute from another scrappy build-up and added a penalty before McGillvary’s deserved try following some rare slick handling sealed it in the final moments.
Huddersfield, who saw Luke Robinson return in place of Shaun Lunt following the hooker’s surprise switch to Hull KR, head to Wakefield Trinity on Sunday, March 22.
Castleford, missing the influence of injured captain Michael Shenton at centre, will be desperate for a win of any sorts – even as ugly as Huddersfield’s here – when they host Salford Red Devils in a week’s time.
Huddersfield Giants: Grix; McGillvary, Cudjoe, Wardle, Murphy; Brough, Ellis; Huby, Robinson, Kopczak, Ferres, Hughes, Lawrence. Substitutes: Crabtree, Wood, Ta’ai, Johnson.
Castleford Tigers: Dorn; Clare, Channing, Webster, Carney; Finn, Gale; Lynch, Moore, Millington, Holmes, Moors, Massey. Substitutes: Roberts, Cook, Wheeldon, Crossley.
Referee: James Child (Dewsbury)