St Helens 16 Huddersfield 17: Top-four spot for Giants as Walmsley sees red

Jake Connor hits the Saints defence
Jake Connor hits the Saints defence
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THE rich irony of it all.

The previous time Huddersfield Giants faced St Helens here in April they lost 17-16 to suffer a most controversial Challenge Cup exit.

Fuming Danny Brough had a drop-goal disallowed when he was adamant it had sailed between the sticks to win the contest.

Last night, with this epic game level and hanging in the balance, the king of the one-pointer was sat in the stands, missing only his second game of the season due to a nasty injury in the nether region.

But it mattered not. Instead, Leroy Cudjoe, the England centre pushed into half-back duty after Luke Robinson was concussed by an Alex Walmsley shoulder charge that saw the Saints prop being red-carded, stepped up to kick a 70th-minute drop goal, the first of his career.

It meant Huddersfield won by the very same scoreline as they had lost by five months ago and it also sent them up to third, confirming a top-four play-offs spot and, cruelly, perhaps denying their opponents – led by ex-Giants coach Nathan Brown – the League Leaders’ Shield.

Yet this victory meant so much more elsewhere, too, given it all now means if Giants’ West Yorkshire neighbours Castleford Tigers can win in Perpignan tonight they will finish top for the first time in their 88-year history.

Some Castleford fans actually came to cheer on Huddersfield last night. It was well worth the trip.

Walmsley had not been on the field long when the hulking replacement front-row was quickly dismissed for that late, shoulder charge just after scrum-half Robinson released a pass in the 27th minute.

Robinson has been knocked out countless times throughout his career given his willingness to take the ball to the line and here, again, he was led off groggy and dazed.

Ironically, when Brown was in charge at Huddersfield, it was just the sort of ugly challenge on the ex-England international that rightly infuriated him.

He wanted protection for the “small fellas” and he has steadfastly maintained his stance ever since. Unfortunately for the Australian, however, the fact referees have finally started to act has, in a way, cost him now as, after Walmsley’s sending off, Saints - top for all but five weeks of the season - can only now hope Catalan can do them a favour to secure a first piece of silverware in six years.

Saints had chance to win it last week against Warrington but blew it and, again last night, the trophy was packked away after they endured a third defeat in four games.

Huddersfield’s task, though, still looked sizeable despite the numerical advantage.

They were 10-0 down at that point and had young full-back Jake Connor already deputising for Brough.

However, they adjusted well, the versatile Australian Chris Bailey bringing some order to their play and Shaun Lunt plus Cudjoe taking on more responsibility along with the involved David Faiumu while Connor’s kicking game proved telling too.

Indeed, it was the 19-year-old whose own neat grubber saw him profit with a try four minutes before the break to give Huddersfield just the encouragement they needed.

Connor – who scored twice in Sunday’s win over Hull FC – converted and did so again when Lunt darted over in the 42nd minute following a brilliant initial thundering run up the middle from Ukuma Ta’ai, who, along with the marauding Antonio Kaufusi and excellent Larne Patrick, set a fine lead up front in the absence of injured ex-England prop Eorl Crabtree who missed his first game of the year.

When Matty Dawson, the ex-Huddersfield winger, was stretchered off when taking Connor’s steepling kick, getting his head in a bad position as Jermaine McGillvary came in to tackle, Saints must have feared the worst.

The hosts capitalised once more when Paul Wellens dropped Mark Flanagan’s pass to allow Cudjoe a pick up and easy 35m sprint to the corner in the 57th minute.

Connor could not convert, though, and that meant when Lance Hohaia dummied over shortly after, following a much-needed break from impressive prop Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Saints drew level at 16-16, a result that would see them lift the trophy.

Connor had a drop goal charged down but they did not fail second time around via Cudjoe. Faiumu fumbled playing the ball in front of his posts, though, to immediately gift Saints a lifeline and it needed Aaron Murphy to produce a truly remarkable tackle to deny Jordan Turner.

Hohaia fluffed a drop goal attempt but, after plenty of Giants pressure came to nothing, they had one last chance only for Turner’s effort to be thwarted ricocheting off Ta’ai as the omnipresent Tongan pressured.

Saints had taken that initial lead against the run of play with Huddersfield having had most of the pressure but lacking the creativity of Brough to break down a stubborn opposition defence.

However, the visitors scored back-to-back tries, first through Tommy Makinson in the 22nd minute after some slick passing, and then through James Roby in the next set after even better handling down the middle.

Percival converted the latter but his side are now left praying for some help in Catalonia this evening.

Huddersfield Giants: Murphy; McGillvary, Cudjoe, Wardle, Broughton; Connor, Robinson; Kaufusi, Lunt, Johnson, Ferres, Patrick, Lawrence. Substitutes: Kopczak, Bailey Faiumu, Ta’ai.

St Helens: Wellens; Makinson, Percival, Jones, Dawson; Hohaia, Wheeler; Amor, Roby, Masoe, Manu, Laffranchi, Turner. Substitutes: Soliola, Walmsley, Flanagan, McCarthy-Scarsbrook.

Referee: R Silverwood (Mirfield).