THERE is some work still to do but after this ruthlessly efficient performance few could argue that Huddersfield Giants will not be worthy winners of the League Leaders’ Shield.
That title, and top spot for the first time in fully 81 years, is well within their grasp this morning after Paul Anderson’s excellent side answered all their critics courtesy of a commanding display at nearest rivals Wigan Warriors.
There was no choking to be had. Huddersfield arrived for this top-of-the-table clash and duly held both their nerve and composure meaning, with just three games to go, they are three points clear of their vanquished hosts.
Granted, Warrington Wolves could yet loom up threateningly but it is in their hands and, regardless, it is Grand Final glory the West Yorkshire club truly seek.
There was enough evidence here to suggest they could achieve that endgame too.
Aaron Murphy (2), Jason Chan, Brett Ferres and Scott Grix – the full-back who has endured some torrid times this year but was brilliant last night – all scored tries to leave the Challenge Cup finalists searching for answers.
Admittedly, Wigan were without Sam Tomkins, the England superstar, who missed their win over Hull KR last Friday due to food poisoning and pulled out here with a back spasm.
With a taxing trip to Perpignan next week, you sense he might not actually emerge from his cotton wool until the Wembley final against Hull FC a fortnight today.
But this was Huddersfield’s night, arguably their greatest in Super League history.
Key forwards Shaun Lunt, Chan and Dale Ferguson all came back from various lengths of injury to give their menacing pack yet more impact and those critics who still persist that the perennial under-achievers always fail to deliver may soon have to reassess their opinion.
The crunch time will come in the play-offs next month but Anderson’s squad are certainly growing in confidence and stature.
Wigan actually opened the scoring in the fourth minute through Sam Powell but Huddersfield then generally had the upper hand even though it was 12-12 at the turnaround of a compelling and high quality contest.
After Grix did brilliantly to hold up Harrison Hansen, Wigan scored at the next play when Josh Charnley rose to palm down Blake Green’s kick, Powell doing the rest.
Pat Richards converted but, unlike in the Challenge Cup semi-final when Huddersfield crumbled after conceding early, Anderson’s side responded well.
Ferres, the England second-row who really used his hulking frame to good effect last night, forced an error from Scott Taylor in the restart set and they quickly settled into the contest.
Inevitably, Danny Brough seemed ubiquitous, whether sprinting away after the hosts dropped another ball, kicking long downfield or popping up with a couple of impromptu kicks as he did to fashion Huddersfield’s first try.
Wigan had defended their line brilliantly to initially deny him, Charnley thwarting both him and Joe Wardle in quick succession.
But the gifted scrum-half then cleverly slid a ball through their centrefield for Grix to race on and, though the full-back was collared, Brough soon lofted one out wide after spotting winger Murphy lurking in space for his 16th league try of the year.
Brough converted and Huddersfield showed the resilience Anderson has instilled when Murphy then dropped Richards huge towering kick-off.
In previous campaigns, such a gaffe would ordinarily result in conceding a try but here Wardle simply stepped up with a rattling tackle on Hansen direct from the scrum to immediately dislodge the ball. Huddersfield’s players celebrated like they had won the Grand Final.
Lunt had a chance to put them in front but just had the ball poked out as he put his head down to surge over after another Huddersfield break.
Wigan, who had had limited attacking opportunities, then struck from nowhere as some sharp passing down their right gave Charnley a sight.
The England winger still had plenty to do from halfway but fended off Lunt, then cut in past Grix before seeing off Brough’s desperate lunge for a brilliant try, his 39th of the season and 13th in last seven games alone.
Richards converted but again the visitors reacted well, Lunt immediately making Epalahame Lauaki err close to his own line to enable Luke Robinson to usher Chan over with a lovely crafted short pass on the half-hour.
Brough’s kick ensured it was level at the break and, crucially, his side struck first in the second period.
Granted, there was a lot of fortune to it. Huddersfield were perhaps lucky to earn a penalty when Jermaine McGillvary lost possession in a loose carry but there was certainly no doubting that Robinson’s short pass thereafter to fire Ferres over from from close range was wildly forward.
Brough – closing in on the club’s points record – missed the simple conversion and was also wide with a standard penalty attempt which could maybe have caused some tension.
However, Grix came up with a deserved try in the 58th minute when he grubbered ahead and beat the dozing Powell to the line before Murphy sealed it with his second after another terrific assist from Ferres.
Wigan: Hampshire; Charnley, Goulding, Thornley, Richards; Green, Powell; Mossop, McIlorum, Taylor, Hansen, Farrell, Tuson. Substitutes: Hughes, Lauaki, L Tomkins, Dudson.
Huddersfield: Grix; McGillvary, Cudjoe, Wardle, Murphy; Brough, Robinson; Crabtree, Lunt, Kopczak, Ferres, Lawrence, Ferguson. Substitutes: Faiumu, Patrick, Chan, Wood.
Referee: J Child (Dewsbury).