Huddersfield 8 St Helens 11: Giants exposed again as Walsh delivers knockout blow for Saints
Granted, the West Yorkshire club will point to yet another baffling display from referee James Child as a reason behind their demise given the Dewsbury official continually left them bemused by his decision-making or, at times, lack of any.
But Paul Anderson’s side will also know they had enough possession and territory here to win three games. Instead, they have now lost that same number on the bounce.
Danny Brough, whose tricky grubbers caused St Helens so many problems, also produced a trademark 40/20 kick in the first half but again there was no tangible reward.
The visiting defence didn’t even have to work too hard to deny them given Giants were so predictable in what they threw at them.
Huddersfield were flat-footed in attack, playing with little depth or variety and it was all too easy for Saints to work out
Then, trailing 9-8 from the 65th minute, the hosts panicked as the clock ticked down and started making the soft handling mistakes that have wrecked their Easter period, leading to defeats against Salford on Good Friday and at Hull KR a week ago.
Each time, amid drizzling rain that barely stopped all afternoon, erring Saints seemed to gift them one more opportunity of a reprieve yet each time Anderson’s side messed things up.
Instead, a man playing his first game in nine months had earlier showed what calmness looks like, Luke Walsh – the Australian scrum-half who was rated a potential Man of Steel last term until breaking his leg in July – coming off the bench to kick a 30m drop goal with 15 minutes to go.
He had been the difference almost 12 months ago, too, when St Helens controversially defeated Huddersfield by a solitary point in the Challenge Cup fifth round.
Yesterday, Saints were even down to 12 men when Walsh struck, Mase Masoe yellow carded for a late, late challenge on Jamie Ellis that also saw the forward put on report.
Brough kicked the goal to leave it 8-8 in the 58th minute and Huddersfield should have kicked on but instead Walsh stepped up and then ex-Hull KR stand-off Travis Burns added a penalty having earlier missed a simple one when the game was still level.
Huddersfield took the lead inside just four minutes with the easiest of scores.
England centre Leroy Cudjoe received the ball standing still and had no right to beat Jon Wilkin and Jordan Turner from 10m out.
However, the simplest piece of footwork left both defenders strangely rooted to the line and he accepted the gift.
Maybe Huddersfield – who gave a debut to on-loan Hull KR forward Jordan Cox and saw Eorl Crabtree make his 400th career appearance – thought the rest of the game would be as simple.
In fairness. the visitors should have been down to 12 men for at least 10 minutes after Wilkin was penalised twice in quick succession for swinging high tackles on Scott Grix and then Jack Hughes.
Both times Child spoke to the Saints captain but opted against a card.
The official did eventually give that forgotten gem – a team warning – after Kyle Amor laid all over Brough in a tackle, just like Lance Hohaia had done to the annoyance of the Huddersfield captain earlier, sparking a brawl.
Brough accepted the two points to make it 6-0 but after a third first half drop-out, ended up throwing a loose pass over Jermain McGillvary’s head into touch.
Hooker Kyle Wood pepped them up briefly off the bench as did prop Anthony Mullally but it was Saints who, despite losing ex-Huddersfield centre Matt Dawson to an injury, hit back.
They had only gone close once in bizarre circumstances when Wilkin’s long kick from halfway hit a post, then the crossbar before causing panic in the Giants defence, winger Tom Makinson spilling just as he tried to touch down the loose ball.
However, when Aaron Murphy unusually dropped Wilkin’s steepling kick in the 39th minute, they scored via Turner who was too powerful for Brough after Burns attacked the line close in.
Burns’s conversion levelled it up 6-6 at the break but he missed that easy kick in the 51st minute before swapping penalties with Brough. It was left to Walsh to come up with what proved the decisive play.
Huddersfield, who missed the suspended centre Joe Wardle, now drop to ninth.
Huddersfield Giants: Grix; McGillvary, Cudjoe, Connor, Murphy; Brough, Ellis; Crabtree, Robinson, Kopczak, Ta’ai, Hughes, Bailey. Substitutes: Huby, Wood, Mullally, Cox.
St Helens: Hohaia; Makinson, Dawson, Turner, Swift; Burns, Wilkin; Amor, Roby, Walmsley, McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Flanagan, Thompson. Substitutes: Masoe, Richards, Savelio.
Referee: J Child (Dewsbury).