TEENAGER Jake Wardle experienced an eventful debut as he scored two tries but then earned a yellow card that threatened to cost Huddersfield Giants this vital victory.
The 19-year-old centre showed real quality to twice leap high and claim kicks for a try in each half as the West Yorkshire club at last ended their five-game losing run.
But, with injury-ravaged Giants leading 22-12, he was then sin-binned for a dangerous tackle on Widnes full-back Rhys Hanbury in the 67th minute.
It was a strong hit on his opponent but, with all the momentum, it ended with the Australian’s head being driven into the turf.
Indeed, Wardle – whose brother Joe, the former Huddersfield star now plying his trade with Castleford after a spell in the NRL, was in the crowd last night – could have been forgiven thinking he may even see red.
However, there was certainly no malice in the tackle and yellow seemed the appropriate call from referee Liam Moore.
Still, energised Widnes did score almost immediately via Tom Gilmore who then converted to quickly get the fellow strugglers within touching distance.
Against 12 men, it seemed they would power home but, instead, Alex Mellor surged onto a pass from Jordan Turner in the 72nd minute, Sam Wood’s fourth goal sealing a first victory for Giants interim head coach Chris Thorman.
Crucially, the win catapulted Huddersfield from bottom to ninth where they now replace Widnes. It was undoubtedly just reward for Thorman who has often had a thankless task since stepping up when Rick Stone was sacked in mid-March but has always addressed the job with real energy, purpose and diligence.
The players owed him a positive result and, at the seventh and likely final attempt, they finally delivered.
It was undoubtedly just reward for Thorman who has often had a thankless task since stepping up when Rick Stone was sacked in mid-March but has always addressed the job with real energy, purpose and diligence.Dave Craven
Australian Simon Woolford, appointed earlier this week, is due to arrive on Thursday and could take charge for the following night’s game when Huddersfield host Wakefield Trinity in the Ladbrokes Challenge Cup. He will now find his new charges in far more positive mood even if still depleted in numbers.
Thorman handed a debut to another 19-year-old last night with scrum-half Oliver Russell enjoying himself just as much as Wardle.
He had come through the Wigan academy system but moved to Huddersfield to further his chances of first-team football and that paid off here.
The son of former Wigan and Castleford hooker Richard Russell, he showed confidence from the start, directing his forwards around and demonstrating some assured hands.
Furthermore, the teenager should have had a 40/20 kick awarded in his favour, too, only for the officials to seemingly miss his pinpoint effort.
It was an effort Danny Brough, who completed his three-match ban for dissent last night, would have been proud of.
But it was fitting that the likes of Wardle and Russell played their part in ending Huddersfield’s worrying losing run.
Thorman has blooded a number of youngsters during his short tenure in charge, admittedly often through necessity but, also, at times because he maintains such belief in those coming through the club’s academy system.
Seventeen-year-old winger Innes Senior made the biggest headlines with three tries in his four appearances but Wardle and Russell clearly stepped up, too, last night and Sam Wood – a relative veteran at 20 – also impressed.
It will surely be part of Woolford’s remit to not only make sure they escape the bottom four but ensure the club’s youngsters continue to be nurtured and advanced.
Russell and the steadying Turner formed the sixth different half-back partnership in the club’s last seven games, illustrating the size of the issues Thorman has faced, but between them they managed to guide the team around sufficiently enough against the enterprising Danny Craven and Gilmore.
Jordan Rankin, too, was crucial to Huddersfield’s success, the Australian coming in from full-back to make some telling contributions.
It was his steepling kick in the 13th minute that Wardle plucked to score his first and his short pass that gave Wood just enough space to use this strength on the outside to add Giants’ second try in the 33rd minute.
In between, Craven did step over for Widnes when the hosts’ defence did, for once, switch off, Gilmore improving, but it was a rare slip.
Widnes needed Ryan Ince to rush back and deny Kruise Leeming after Rankin’s break early in the second period but Russell lofted a kick for Wardle to claim his second try regardless soon after.
Ince hit back with a scrappy effort in the 53rd minute only for Ukuma Ta’ai to muscle his way in for Giants just after the hour.
There was more drama still to come but Thorman’s side showed real resilience to gain this hard-earned and much-needed success.
Huddersfield Giants: Rankin; McIntosh, Wood, Wardle, Mamo; Turner, Russell; Ikahihifo, O’Brien, Clough, Mellor, Ta’ai, Hinchliffe. Substitutes: Leeming, Lawrence, Smith, English.
Widnes Vikings: Hanbury; Ince, Keinhorst, Runciman, Ah Van; Gilmore, Craven; Gerrard, White, burke, Whitley, Wilde, Olbison. Substitutes: Leuluai, Cahill, Albert, Heremaia.
Referee: Liam Moore (Wigan).