IF HUDDERSFIELD Giants do force their way into the Super 8s come the cut-off point in five rounds’ time, they may well look back at this hard-fought win as a crucial moment.
Their resurgence continued last night as they dug out a gritty victory against St Helens to rise up to seventh in the Super League table.
They had scored 100 points in their previous two outings but here it was the resilience and fortitude of their defensive play that came to the fore as Rick Stone’s side held off their opponents’ desperate late bid to snatch victory.
This fixture was, of course, supposed to occur on Spring Bank Holiday Monday but was controversially switched due to Huddersfield Town being at Wembley securing their Premier League place on the same day.
With both sides not involved in this weekend’s Challenge Cup quarter-finals, they utilised this vacant slot and Huddersfield were glad they did.
They prevailed despite losing in-form Australian full-back Jake Mamo to a foot injury and also seeing hooker Kruise Leeming depart on the hour with a suspected broken jaw after England centre Mark Percival was put on report for a crude high tackle.
They replace champions Wigan Warriors in seventh and move to within a point of Saints.
However, having seen their opponents eat away at a 12-0 lead and then close to just 18-16, it was not until Lee Gaskell bundled over off Sam Rapira’s fine offload at the line in the 75th minute that they could finally feel safe.
Before that, Saints had thrown plenty at the hosts in an effort to nudge success themselves but, each time, defiant Huddersfield held firm before escaping to force a drop-out and seal victory.
Scrum-half Martin Ridyard, playing the fourth and final game of his month-long loan from Leigh Centurions, was instrumental, scoring his first try for the Fartowners, creating another for Leroy Cudjoe and kicking four goals, his only miss a long-range penalty on the final hooter.
He is certainly not the most spectacular player but the 30-year-old has undoubtedly brought some much-needed organisation to them in recent weeks and Stone will look to extend the deal ahead of Friday’s home game with Wigan.
With Australian Jordan Rankin arriving shortly from Wests Tigers, too, and Giants now three points clear of Catalans Dragons in ninth, they will surely be confident of avoiding the Qualifiers and that dreaded fear of relegation endured last term.
Nevertheless, they will still be wondering this morning just how they were only 12-6 ahead at the break. Without creating a raft of chances, they had dominated the first period, continually making ground up front whether through Rapira and Sebastine Ikahihifo or, a little further out, the impressive Dale Fergsuon.
Ridyard and Danny Brough kicked diligently and, with Saints making errors – former England scrum-half Matty Smith twice kicked out on the full – their own line was barely threatened until just before the interval.
That gave the visitors a lifeline. Shortly before, Huddersfield had gone 12-0 ahead when Ridyard collected Brough’s grubber and converted his own score. However, with Mamo having limped off and headed straight down the tunnel, they were caught dozing as Morgan Knowles bustled his way into space down the middle to send fellow replacement Luke Thompson between the posts for Percival to improve.
The England centre then narrowed the advantage further just three minutes into the second period, Zeb Taia making the initial inroads but Jonny Lomax providing a smart assist for his international colleague to finish.
Percival could not improve from wide out but Saints had certainly served notice they would not fall away.
Earlier, Ridyard’s astute pass had put captain Cudjoe over for the game’s first try on 16 minutes but there were few other chances of note.
The most entertainment came from Brough’s simmering battle with Jon Wilkin after the latter had refused to hand the ball over when a Saints kick rolled dead.
At that point, it looked like Huddersfield’s talisman’s famous temper might boil over and incur the wrath of referee James Child but he curbed his frustrations to stay on the field.
Instead, later, it was his former Giants team-mate Tommy Lee who was penalised for needless interference on the Scotland captain, leading to the position for Adam O’Brien’s vital 55th minute try.
In response, Wilkin took Smith’s high kick but spilled over the line, Regan Grace went close, too, before Saints did barrell over through Kyle Amor from close range in the 66th minute for Percival to set up a tense finish.
However, Jermaine McGillvary atoned for a handling error to critically deny Grace again and Gaskell made sure at the other end.
Huddersfield Giants: Mamo; McGillvary, Cudjoe, Gaskell, Murphy; Brough, Ridyard; Wakeman, Leeming, Ikahihifo, Ferguson, Roberts, Hinchcliffe. Substitutes: O’Brien, Mellor, Rapira, Clough.
St Helens: Lomax; Makinson, Morgan, Percival, Grace; Fages, Smith; Walmsley, Roby, Amor, Taia, Wilkin, McCarthy-Scarsbrook. Substitutes: Douglas, Thompson, Lee, Knowles.
Referee: J Child (Dewsbury).