THERE is a common misconception that the Qualifiers will be the only competition of interest in the weeks ahead.
However, that was quickly blown apart last night as brilliant Huddersfield Giants proved there is plenty of life in the Super 8s, too.
Simon Woolford’s side produced a truly stunning display, full of spirit, desire and remarkable defensive aptitude, to shock the runaway leaders St Helens.
Huddersfield, with in-form winger Darnell McIntosh scoring another two tries, have now won 10 of their last 11 games; there is still some way to go but if they carry on in this form they could yet reach the top four despite being bottom in May.
Outstanding Giants added extra woe on Saints who suffered a shock Challenge Cup semi-final exit against Catalans Dragons last Sunday and will now have people wondering if they do have the stomach to push on to Old Trafford as expected.
The West Yorkshire club brutally ended the leaders’ 12-match winning run in Super League in what was only their second home defeat all year.
Huddersfield, with in-form winger Darnell McIntosh scoring another two tries, have now won 10 of their last 11 games; there is still some way to go but if they carry on in this form they could yet reach the top four despite being bottom in May.Dave Craven
Furthermore, given Huddersfield lost 66-4 here in April –Saints’ biggest win of the season –it just shows the immense strides Giants have made since Australian Woolford’s arrival the following month.
They were led superbly up front by prop Paul Clough – one of three former Saints players in the Giants ranks – and the excellent loose forward Dale Ferguson while thunderous front-row Suaia Matago made an impressive debut after his move from Parramatta Eels.
Saints had won 15 successive games before being unpicked by Catalans and Huddersfield, who raced into a 16-0 lead after 20 minutes before defending heroically in the second period, sensed they were vulnerable after that massive disappointment.
Man of Steel favourite Ben Barba, amid Australian reports overnight that he will be returning to the NRL in 2019, made two major blunders as the visitors took control. Undoubtedly, Saints were a shadow of their normal selves with a raft of hapless handling errors earlier on.
But nothing can be taken away from the manner in which Woolford’s side capitalised.
McIntosh went in for the first of his brace (he now has 10 tries in his last seven games) after just five minutes, Matagi having helped set up position with the first of his bullocking carries.
Danny Brough converted and when the veteran sent up a high kick, Barba spilled to quickly give them another chance.
This time it was Brough’s perfectly-timed delayed pass that created the chink in Saints’ defence for Alex Mellor to cruise over. Even though Matagi dropped possession charging back from restart – the giant Aucklander knocked England centre Mark Percival flying beforehand –Saints’ attack petered out to nothing, Zeb Taia wrapped up nowhere near the line on the last tackle.
Tommy Makinson was forced into touch, too, after a benign kick from Danny Richardson, the highly-rated young scrum-half who would also later drop the ball himself with no one near him.
When Barba spilled Brough’s latest high kick – one of those horrible, spiralling, swirling efforts that seem may never actually return from the skies – Giants added their third try.
McIntosh was the beneficiary again, this time from Jordan Rankin’s cut-out pass, and with real simplicity. Brough continued to cause problems with his kicking, one deft grubber looking like a wrong option down the bare right side until Jermaine McGillvary arrived to bundle Barba behind for a goalline drop-out.
Indeed, Saints needed a touch of luck to eventually break them.
There was ironic cheers when Barba finally claimed a high kick in the 33rd minute – but genuine cheers when he finished off the set by scoring between the posts.
However, officials missed a glaring forward pass from Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook as he offloaded on halfway to Jonny Lomax in the build-up.
Richardson improved and Giants breathed a sigh of relief when Taia ran over Leroy Cudjoe in the next set only for Lomax to slip when another try looked certain.
Woolford’s side started the second period strongly, though, forcing two goalline drop-outs after Jordan Rankin switched from full-back to stand-off.
That said, they could not add to their points tally and it was inevitable Saints would rally again.
It was Luke Thompson who duly got them back in range with a try in the 58th minute after Saints had earned a contentious penalty when Barba was bundled into touch by five defenders.Richardson’s kick cut the deficit and James Roby thought he had levelled it in the next set after Jon Wilkin supported Lomax’s break but Huddersfield somehow rallied to hold the England hooker up over the line on the last tackle.
That prompted a sustained period under pressure for the visitors but their energy and resilience was simply remarkable and, deservedly, they held on.
St Helens: Barba, Makinson, Costello, Percival, Swift, Lomax, Richardson, Amor, Roby, Thompson, Knowles, Taia, Wilkin. Substitutes: Fages, McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Douglas, Lees.
Huddersfield: Rankin, McGillvary, Cudjoe, Turner, McIntosh, Gaskell, Brough, Matagi, O’Brien, Ta’ai, Mellor, Roberts, Ferguson. Substitutes: Hinchcliffe, Clough, Roche, English.
Referee: Scott Mikalauskas (RFL)