Huddersfield 0 Salford 28: Giants powerless to stop Red Devils' juggernaut as season fizzles out
In relegation danger a few short months ago, Salford Red Devils joined fellow early-season strugglers Leeds Rhinos in the Super League semi-finals thanks to a hugely impressive 28-0 win at Huddersfield Giants.
Salford booked a date with defending champions St Helens at the Totally Wicked Stadium, meaning Leeds' reward for their gutsy victory over Catalans Dragons is a trip to Wigan Warriors.
For the second year running, the teams that finished third and fourth have been eliminated in week one of the play-offs.
Huddersfield finished the regular season three places and seven points better off than their visitors but they were powerless to stop the Salford juggernaut.
A fascinating clash of styles between two well-drilled sides was won emphatically by a Red Devils outfit oozing confidence after booking their play-off spot courtesy of nine victories in 11 games.
Paul Rowley's team were 16-0 up inside the opening quarter and never relinquished their grip.
Huddersfield's impressive home record - 13 wins in the previous 14 games - counted for nothing as the match slipped away.
If the play-off eliminator proved anything from a Huddersfield perspective, it was that the methodical Giants are not built for chasing large deficits.
Ian Watson's men have made huge strides this year but the Challenge Cup finalists will look back on 2022 as a missed opportunity.
For Watson, who left Salford for Huddersfield at the end of 2020, it was a chastening experience - and the away supporters let him know.
The John Smith's Stadium fell silent ahead of kick-off in memory of the late Queen before a rendition of the National Anthem led by a packed away end.
The travelling Salford fans were in a buoyant mood throughout the afternoon and Rowley's side fed off their energy to leave the Giants shellshocked.
Huddersfield started with authority and tried to do what they have done to so many teams on home soil this year.
But it did not take the Red Devils long to break free from the shackles.
After coming away from their own line in the opening sets, Salford did not look back after firing a warning shot through Joe Burgess.
The winger was unable to find space or a team-mate after making a half-break down the left flank, but the seed of doubt had been planted.
So assured and clinical at the John Smith's Stadium during the regular season, Huddersfield were unable to drag themselves off the canvas in the first half.
The hugely influential Marc Sneyd got the scoreboard moving with a penalty after Chris McQueen caught Elijah Taylor with a high tackle and before the Giants knew it they were three scores behind.
A lazy error from Chris Hill following a charge down invited the Red Devils into Huddersfield territory and they punished the veteran prop.
From a scrum play close to the line, fast hands from Ryan Brierley put Burgess over in the corner.
With the Giants still recovering from that blow, Salford landed another one to put one foot in the semi-finals just 15 minutes in.
The irrepressible Brodie Croft glided into open space and Kallum Watkins was in support to add the finishing touches.
Sneyd knocked over the straightforward conversion and then added a penalty after Tui Lolohea kicked the restart out on the full to cap a nightmare opening 20 minutes for Huddersfield.
Lolohea set about atoning for his error with a classy chip and chase, only for Brierley to shut the door in his face with a cynical shoulder charge off the ball.
The challenge earned the Salford full-back 10 minutes in the sin bin but the predictable Giants did not look like scoring in his absence.
The Red Devils finished the half on top and appeared destined to score when Deon Cross kicked a loose ball into open space.
Huddersfield got back to crowd out the centre and Theo Fages did well to deny Tyler Dupree close to the line moments later - but the game was already gone.
The Giants lost Danny Levi to a leg injury before the interval and Croft was clattered after collecting a kick to leave Salford without a star man for the semi-finals.
Sebastine Ikahihifo tried to get Huddersfield going with a barnstorming run from the kick-off but the home side were otherwise second best in the intensity stakes.
If there was any doubt about the outcome, Brierley removed it when he touched down Sneyd's kick in front of the jubilant Salford supporters eight minutes into the second half.
The Giants never threw in the towel but nothing worked for Watson's men on an afternoon from their worst nightmare.
The excellent Andy Ackers compounded Huddersfield's misery with a try from deep in the final two minutes.
Huddersfield Giants: Lolohea, Cudjoe, King, Leutele, I Senior, Russell, Fages, Hill, Levi, Trout, Jones, McQueen, Yates.
Substitutes: Pryce, Greenwood, Ikahihifo, English.
Salford Red Devils: Brierley, Sio, Cross, Lafai, Burgess, Croft, Sneyd, Dupree, Ackers, Wright, Taylor, Watkins, Gerrard.
Substitutes: Luckley, Vuniyayawa, Atkin, Ormondroyd.
Referee: Robert Hicks.