BRETT FERRES signed for treble-winners Leeds Rhinos with the firm belief he would lift some major silverware after so many near misses for Huddersfield Giants.
How ironic then that the England second-row, who made the move so controversially in January, was last night at the heart of the turning point that saw his new side’s last chance of glory this season already disappear.
It is still only early May but, bizarrely, hapless holders Leeds are now out of the Ladbrokes Challenge Cup and bottom of Super League with only a fight for survival to look forward to.
Trailing 12-6 just before half-time here, Ferres had a glorious chance to swing this sixth round tie in their favour before, ultimately, the inspirational Danny Brough became the latest opposition player to tear Brian McDermott’s error-ridden side to pieces.
Yet to score in nine games since leaving Huddersfield, Ferres seemed certain to do so when hurtling onto Rob Burrow’s pass in the shadow of the posts and half breaking the Giants line.
However, Sam Rapira, the former Kiwi prop whose experience is increasingly telling for the improving Fartowners, somehow managed to rip the ball from Ferres’s possession.
To rub it in, in a matter of moments, Huddersfield had gone 100m and scored at the other end.
Leroy Cudjoe scooped up the ball, instinctively found wing partner Jermaine McGillvary who advanced through the bedraggled Leeds defence and fed Ryan Brierley on his shoulder, the livewire full-back signed from Leigh earlier this season for just this sort of scenario.
Demonstrating his brilliant acceleration he managed to scorch in from near halfway, Ferres left only to complain to Ben Thaler, the referee who duly yellow-carded him.
Brough slotted the conversion and, instead of facing 12-12, Giants were 18-6 up, increased by a further point when Jake Connor scored the scruffiest drop-goal you are ever likely to see in the dying seconds of the half.
Leeds, for all their huff and puff, never looked like recovering from that deficit and, with stand-off Brough, Rapira and England centre Cudjoe so dominating, Giants deservedly defeated their derby rivals for a second week running.
For Rhinos, this was as far removed from their last Challenge Cup appearance – the record-breaking 50-0 Wembley annihilation of Hull KR to retain the trophy – as humanly possible.
To their credit, they rallied while down to 12 men, actually replying through Liam Sutcliffe’s 45th minute try albeit after they were handed position by Brough’s lazy pass being picked off by Jordan Lilley.
Lilley improved but, no soon as Ferres had returned to the field to bring parity in numbers, his former colleagues were over once more.
Cudjoe, continuing his recent fine form at centre, escaped clear and Kyle Wood dived over.
Sutcliffe’s fine offload put Adam Cuthbertson into space and the big Australian did well to find Jimmy Keinhorst for his second try of the night but it was only false hope.
His first had come after just 59 seconds when Lilley’s midfield run was the instigator and promised so much for the holders, who looked sharp and incisive early on.
However, they had far too many errors in them and, instead, it was Huddersfield’s more pragmatic and diligent approach that brought the rewards, first through the robust Ukuma Ta’ai and then McGillvary from Cudjoe’s sharp assist.
When the visitors threatened briefly to fightback in the second half, Brough kicked a penalty to deter them further, Rhinos handed a team warning for yet more pointless ill-discipline.
Fittingly, Brough jinxed his way through for his own try in the 65th minute before scoring a real rarity – a hat-trick of drop goals – in the closing stages, to leave Anthony Mullally’s barged over try as mere consolation.
Paul Anderson’s side will now look forward to the quarter-final draw as they seek a first Challenge Cup win since 1953 and will have growing belief as they seek to further climb away from Leeds at the bottom of Super League.
For their beleaguered opponents, so lacking in direction and purpose, they must dust themselves down quickly ahead of Castleford Tigers’ visit on Thursday and try anything to revive their campaign.
Challenge Cup winners in each of the last two seasons, this was their first defeat in the competition since Huddersfield also beat them in the early rounds in 2013.
However, this loss did not come as any great surprise.
Huddersfield Giants: Brierley; McGillvary, Cudjoe, Murphy, Connor; Brough, Wood; Crabtree, Hinchcliffe, Johnson, Wardle, Ta’ai, Lawrence. Substitutes: Rapira, Mason, Roberts, S Wood.
Leeds Rhinos: Golding; Handley, Watkins, Keinhorst, Hardaker; Sutcliffe, Lilley; Galloway, Burrow, Garbutt, Walters, Ferres, Jones-Buchanan. Substitutes: Cuthbertson, Achurch, Mullally, L Briscoe.
Referee: B Thaler (Wakefield).