FEW teams ever say this, but Huddersfield Giants must wish they could play Leeds Rhinos every week.
They stretched their unbeaten run against their West Yorkshire rivals to seven games last night after notching up a sixth win in that impressive sequence, but not before the most dramatic of finishes.
Hanging on at 24-22 for the final quarter of an hour, anxious Huddersfield thought they had cruelly conceded when Tom Briscoe went over after the final hooter had sounded.
However, of course, the decision was put in the hands of the video referees Steve Ganson and Phil Bentham, who – after what seemed an eternity as the entire Headingley stadium held their breath – deliberated that in the final act Huddersfield’s Danny Brough was nudged slightly, but just enough, in the back by the Leeds player as they both chased down Joel Moon’s desperate kick.
The home support was incensed, but in the cold light of day it was the correct decision and, in fairness, the visitors will argue they should have had this sewn up 10 minutes earlier.
They, too, were denied when, still just two points ahead. Brough came up with a brilliant long pass to send Jodie Broughton sprinting to the line, a delivery worthy of winning any game. It was chalked off harshly for the ruling which is currently de rigeur and killing the sport – obstruction.
Before the late drama, the game had been far from pretty with Huddersfield trailing 12-6 following a dire first half in which both teams struggled for any semblance of cohesion.
But three tries in just seven minutes from Jermaine McGillvary, Eorl Crabtree and Joe Wardle at the start of the second period saw the visitors take a 24-12 lead and do just enough.
Leeds, badly missing the creativity of injured Rob Burrow and Danny McGuire, fought back with tries from Ryan Bailey and the impressive Liam Sutcliffe, but Sinfield failed to convert the former and it proved the difference as they endured a third loss in four Super League games.
Huddersfield – who saw Brough rise to the occasion with two much-needed 40/20 kicks in that tense second period – are now up to fifth and their confidence must surely surge given the circumstances of this win.
Both sides were guilty for contributing towards a largely forgettable first half.
Leeds, though, were perhaps more fortunate that Huddersfield did not capitalise on their errors with greater ruthlessness.
The hosts made a raft of mistakes – Sinfield twice kicked out on the full in open play – only to be left thankful that their visitors had no sense of accuracy either.
Reigning Man of Steel Brough threw a couple of passes along the floor, McGillvary, Michael Lawrence and Broughton all coughed up ball too cheaply and even the usually dangerous Brett Ferres seemed strait-jacketed.
As it stood, Paul Anderson’s side crossed just once and that was from a sharp piece of individualism from Kyle Wood who, along with the powerful Larne Patrick, was one of the better performers. The little half-back gave the merest of dummies and then accelerated through from 20m, bisecting Stevie Ward and Bailey for Brough to convert.
That came soon after Kallum Watkins had given Leeds a sixth-minute lead with some classy footwork that left Brough and Wardle clutching at thin air, Sinfield kicking the first of his three conversions.
Sinfield forced a rare repeat set by chasing down McGillvary behind his own line and, from there, full-back Ben Jones-Bishop – playing again due to Zak Hardaker’s five-game ban – weaved over following a decent handling movement in the 18th minute.
Sinfield improved for Leeds, who gave a debut to Luke Briscoe, but there was no further score until seven minutes into the second period when Jones-Bishop fumbled near his own line. Ukuma Ta’ai, who gave Huddersfield real ballast off the bench, took it on and found Broughton who was just denied by Watkins.
But the ball was switched wide, again brilliantly by Brough, and McGillvary eventually dived in at the corner for his captain to level.
After Ta’ai charged close again in the 55th minute, Crabtree barrelled over, too, for Brough to convert and when Ferres showed great footwork to elude Jamie Peacock in the next set, breaking free from his own half to send in Wardle for the crucial converted score.
Bailey bulldozed over in the 62nd minute after Watkins squeezed a ball out of Brough’s big tackle and when a Sinfield kick was not dealt with three minutes later Sutcliffe showed great awareness and pace to arc over into the corner.
Leeds Rhinos : Jones-Bishop; T Briscoe, Watkins, Moon, Hall; Sutcliffe, Sinfield; Leuluai, R Ward, Peacock, S Ward, Delaney, Bailey. Substitutes: Kirke, Clarkson, L Briscoe, Walters.
Huddersfield Giants: Grix; McGillvary, Murphy, Wardle, Broughton; Brough, Wood; Crabtree, Robinson, Johnson, Ferres, Lawrence, Bailey. Substitutes: Chan, Patrick, Faiumu, Ta’ai.
Referee: Richard Silverwood (Mirfield).