Following two Super League defeats, and with such high expectations on them, the West Yorkshire club were in dire need of a triumph yesterday.
They managed it but only after an at times nervy battle against opponents who were also searching for a first success of 2021.
Giants face league champions St Helens in the quarter-finals at the start of next month and Watson will know they must sharpen up considerably if they are to progress any further.
They had plenty of positive displays here, not least from Kenny Edwards, the Kiwi second-row who was given his first start under Watson’s reign as Joe Greenwood started a three-game ban.
He certainly took his chance with some strong carries, centre Jake Wardle had some classy moments, loose forward Josh Jones was excellent and former St Helens prop Jack Ashworth also enjoyed a solid debut after coming in for James Gavet.
Nevertheless, Huddersfield – who led 18-0 after 27 minutes – too often slipped off to encourage Leigh back into the contest and they faced some shaky times after Jordan Thomspon’s second try left them just 28-18 ahead with 15 minutes still remaining.
However, Leigh’ prop Adam Sidlow was sin-binned soon after for a high tackle on Owen Trout and that allowed the visitors to finish with a flourish, England winger McGillvary completing his treble and Lee Gaskell – who controlled well at stand-off – adding a try of his own after another stylish Wardle break. Indeed, the margin of victory should have been greater but Wardle only managed to convert two of his six attempted conversions, Gaskell also missing his solitary effort.
Still, Huddersfield were ruthless in the first half when they barely made a handling error.
Leigh’s fragile defence was exploited early when Wardle made a sprightly break up the middle from the deep; plenty of his team-mates would soon follow suit.
They got off the mark with Edwards tenth-minute try, the former Catalans Dragons star who initially won possession with a ball steal on Craig Mullen.
Gaskell’s cut-out pass for Wardle then saw Sam Wood in for their second try and – after a wayward Sidlow offload – Wardle added a penalty. Next, Watson’s side showed their cohesion down the right side next, Jack Cogger and Chris McQueen linking well before Darnell McIntosh looped around to send McGillvary over.
Jones busted through the middle in the next set to supply Cogger with a run of his own.
Blake Wallace brought down his fellow Australian but suffered a head knock in the process and he never returned from his HIA.
Strangely, that kicked Leigh into action as they made their first attack of note as late as the 35th minute, Thompson making the most of some hesitant goalline defence to score, Ben Reynolds improving.
However, McQueen performed another ball steal as Leigh looked to bring the ball back in the next set and, when the home side were then caught offside, Wardle slotted another penalty.
Neverthless, Watson’s side still had work to do before the interval, especially after Luke Yates was sin-binned for a late tackle on Ryan Brierley. The USA prop had sprinted off straight after the challenge to be replaced by Matty English but it did not fool referee Liam Moore.
Once former Giants half-back Brierley had finished his lengthty on-field treatment to continue, the official called Yates back on the field to immediately send him back with the yellow card.
Huddersfield held out, though, and McGillvary added his second try at the start of the second period before fellow winger Wood doubled his tally from a lovely lofted Gaskell pass.
Nathan Peats, the former New South Wales State of Origin hooker on debut for Leigh, scored and Thompson’s second gave the hosts a flicker of hope but it was soon extinguished.
Giants visit Hull KR on Friday looking to get that maiden Super League win – and iron out some of the defensive lapses shown here.
Leigh Centurions: Wallace; Brand, Thornley, Mullen, Tierney; Reynodls, Brierley; Flowe, Hood, Sidlow, Hellewell, Gee, McCarthy. Substitutes: Peats, Thompson, Ioane, Peteru.
Huddersfield Giants: McIntosh; McGillvary, Cudjoe, Jake Wardle, Wood; Gaskell, Cogger; Yates, Cunningham, Ashworth, Edwards, McQueen, Jones. Substitutes: O’Brien, Lawrence, English, Trout.
Referee: Liam Moore (Wigan)
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