St Helens v Huddersfield Giants: Purtill believes it is time for the Giants to drop into the top three
Australian Walsh did so to inflict a 35-34 defeat on the West Yorkshire club at Langtree Park only last month, having done likewise in a controversial 17-16 Challenge Cup fourth- round victory against the Giants at the John Smith’s Stadium last year.
Indeed, the scrum-half even dinked one over at a critical time to help edge another narrow 11-8 defeat of the Fartowners in April as well.
However, if Huddersfield – whose England centre Leroy Cudjoe has signed a new deal until the end of 2020 – can reverse that annoying trend tonight and secure a win at the Merseyside club, it will be a significant breakthrough.
Not only will it seem them replace the champions in third spot with just four Super 8s games then remaining, but it will also serve as a first victory over a top-three side all season, a welcome fillip in their bid towards the ultimate end-game of a maiden Grand Final.
Paul Anderson’s side, who have been fourth for much of the year, have consistently come unstuck against the leading lights. They have lost to Wigan Warriors three times, endured those two agonising defeats to Saints and, while managing a draw at home with leaders Leeds Rhinos, have also fallen to away defeats at the Headingley club in the league and Challenge Cup.
Not a single victory from eight meetings with the top-three is clearly something that needs to be addressed but Purtill knows they are close. “I think we’ve banished drop goals this week – they’re not allowed – and then we might be all right!
“Knowing we can get up to third has to be a big motivation. But, realistically, if we want to win a Grand Final we’re going to have to beat those above us.
“It’d be a great start for us this week to knock St Helens off to move up a place and it is always a good challenge.
“We’ve got some good athletes here and good professionals with us and those types of people want challenging.
“They are looking forward to it. We’ve spoken internally and we know we’re getting to the stage where performing is not good enough any more; we have to win some of these big games and we’ll look to do so Thursday.”
Giants – who ironically beat St Helens 17-16 with a drop goal in their home meeting last year and in 2012 – lost their Super 8s opener at Wigan but responded with a decent win over Catalans Dragons last week.
Tonight’s opponents are in a relative mire as they stare at potentially a fourth successive defeat.
Having lost a Challenge Cup semi-final to Leeds, Saints stumbled in Perpignan and were then stunned at home by eighth-placed Hull FC last Friday.
That led to head coach Keiron Cunningham publicly questioning whether some of his reigning champions are worthy of a place in his squad for 2016.
Purtill, who coached the legendary hooker during two spells on the Saints coaching staff before rejoining Huddersfield in 2012, admitted: “Any time you play a St Helens team coming off a defeat and they’ve had a bit of a rocket, playing at home, you are going to get a response from them.
“That reaction probably shows how much passion Keiron has for the club and the town in general.
“When you’ve got your own statue there, as he has, it just shows the high esteem he’s held in over in St Helens.
“But he knows. He’s been there in the glory years and good times, and understands what it takes to be successful and what is demanded of players at Saints.
“He’d demand that of his players as much as he’d put it in himself so I think this week there’ll be a response; they’ll come out all guns firing.”
Purtill realises at the heart of any retaliation from Saints will be evergreen England hooker James Roby and Alex Walmsley, the giant prop from Dewsbury, who has topped 3,500m this term, more than any other Super League player.
“They are a challenge,” he said. “Walmsley and Roby have played really well even if the team’s not been outstanding all year.
“With quality like that they can turn a game quickly.
“We need to dominate those two and stop the other guys playing off the back of it.”
If Giants can do that then one thing is likely at least – Walsh will not be able to get near them for one of those pesky drop-goals.