HUDDERSFIELD Giants maintained their lead at the top of Super League last night, finally working out a way of playing the awful conditions to continue their recent dominance over champions Leeds Rhinos.
They went more than half a century without a win at Headingley but have now secured three consecutive victories here.
This one was achieved with the help of two tries from winger Aaron Murphy and, most importantly, Danny Brough’s astute kicking.
The scrum-half – seemingly discarded by the watching England coach Steve McNamara after his ETS omission this week – endured an off-day with his conversion attempts, missing the first three to initially keep woeful Leeds in a scrappy contest that perfectly depicted the phrase ‘error-strewn’.
But after missing last week’s heavy loss against Bradford Bulls – Huddersfield’s only reverse so far – the captain delivered some telling tactical kicking amid all the rain including two crucial 40/20s and clever assists for both Murphy’s tries.
Only 8-2 ahead at the break, Brough realised the only way to win this dour encounter was to master the boot and by the time he finished off Brett Ferres’s classy break in the 62nd minute, embarrassed Leeds were well beaten at 26-2 down.
Paul McShane dummied over from acting-half six minutes later to spare Rhinos the ignominy of failing to even score a try but it was the only time they would breach a much-improved Giants defence and proved little consolation.
Eorl Crabtree then had the final word for Huddersfield as Brough, fittingly, made the darting run for the England prop to twist out of another broken tackle.
In what was largely a miserable encounter, Giants deserve real credit for grinding their way to victory.
It was the sort of dogged performance coach Paul Anderson will appreciate and one they will need more of if they are ever truly going to challenge the likes of Leeds and maintain a genuine challenge for a first Super League title.
Before Brough brought some clarity to it all, it had been a dire game.
Someone noted there had been 16 handling mistakes in the opening 21 minutes alone.
It was a frightening thought but one which sounded about right, although in all fairness, most people would have long since stopped counting.
The official statistician, however, was duty-bound to carry on and he recorded the hosts narrowly ahead 12-10 at half-time in that unwanted field.
Leeds coach Brian McDermott had started watching the game from the tunnel area before returning back to his usual seat at the top of the main stand, presumably to try to get a clearer idea of just what was going on out there.
However, when Chris Clarkson became the latest to blunder early in the tackle count, he was striding off back downstairs. The view did not improve.
All Leeds could take from the first-half shambles was Kevin Sinfield’s penalty after the hooter with Huddersfield having forged 8-2 ahead following tries from Joe Wardle and Murphy.
Joe Vickery made a real hash of Brough’s kick to allow Wardle to score and then, when Brett Delaney became the latest Leeds player to err, the scrum-half showed his right foot is just as clinical as his trusted left by stubbing another kick through for Murphy.
The second half did not get any better for Leeds with Huddersfield, clearly realising the fragility of Vickery on the right flank, ruthlessly exposing them once more in the 43rd minute.
After another error in their own 20 gifted Huddersfield the ball, Brough ran a runaround with Luke Robinson direct from the scrum and dinked another kick in behind for Murphy to gather again in acres of space.
The ex-Wakefield wideman was only playing on the left flank after being switched from the right when Jermaine McGillvary was ruled out late on by a back spasm, youngster Matt Dawson making a rare appearance instead.
Leeds were fortunate that Brough missed that third successive conversion attempt so the damage was still only a 12-2 deficit. But Huddersfield duly applied more pressure with Brough producing those 40/20s either side of Kallum Watkins having a rare Leeds effort chalked off when he slid through but could not reach the line.
England centre Leroy Cudjoe and Dale Ferguson – the loose forward back from his loan at Hull KR – then took some of the pressure off Brough by kicking through for David Faiumu to send Scott Grix over, Brough finally adding a conversion.
He then got his own score as Leeds were left broken.
“They handled the conditions far better and Danny Brough’s kicking game was key,” conceded McDermott.
Anderson said of Brough: “He’s a good player. He controlled the game and his kicking is a good tool. But the collective effort was outstanding.
“We came up with one error on our try-line which resulted in a try and the bloke responsible for that came up to me distraught feeling he’d let the team down.
“That’s the culture I want to get in here. The result and manner of it was pleasing but the real positive thing for me was the attitude we came up with compared to last week. That was the response we wanted.”
Leeds Rhinos: Watkins; Vickery, Ablett, Moon, Hall; Sinfield, McGuire; Leuluai, Burrow, Kirke, Clarkson, Delaney, Jones-Buchanan. Substitutes: Ward, Peacock, McShane, Moore.
Huddersfield Giants: Grix; Murphy, Cudjoe, Wardle, Dawson; Brough, Robinson; Crabtree, Lunt, Fielden, Ferres, Chan, Ferguson. Substitutes: Kopczak, Patrick, Faiumu, Ta’ai.
Referee: Ben Thaler (Wakefield).