THERE was an admission he never saw his side pushing on to win last night’s competitive Coral Challenge Cup tie, but that is not to say Huddersfield Giants head coach Simon Woolford was unhappy with his resilient side’s performance.
The West Yorkshire club certainly pushed St Helens hard, leaving the Super League leaders with a number of issues and, indeed, after Joe Wardle’s second try Huddersfield led going into the final quarter.
Ultimately, though, once Kevin Naiqama scored in the 61st minute to regain the lead for Saints the hosts were starved of opportunities to retrieve the situation.
It is, then, Justin Holbrook’s team who host Wakefield Trinity in the quarter-finals with Giants left to concentrate on pushing up the Super League table.
They sit ninth, just four points off bottom, ahead of a crucial game against struggling Hull KR on Friday where Woolford hopes to see his side build on last night’s positive display.
“I thought we were fantastic in most areas,” said the Australian.
“Our goalline defence was as good as it’s been all year.
“They scored two tries in the second half off kicks and with a bounce of the ball and their other in the first half was off a kick.
“Fair play to them – they got some kicks on the money and we need to be better – but from a defensive point of view we defended well enough to win a game.
“We came up a bit short with the ball, but there was plenty to like.
“Sometimes you lose a game and there’s a part of you down there that’s quite content with what you see.
“I must say there’s been a lot of games we’ve lost this year where I haven’t felt that.
“But [last night against Saints] I thought we took a giant step forward. The challenge for us now is to make sure that is our standard.”
It was a third successive loss for Huddersfield, but they will garner plenty from this, not least the performances of wingers Innes and Louis Senior, teenage twin brothers.
They both started with Giants missing England star Jermaine McGillvary – he was omitted due to a nagging foot issue, but hopes to be fit for Hull KR’s visit on Friday – and Fiji international Akuila Uate.
Saints, who have lost just once all year, were far from their best here, proving sloppy at times and encouraging their hosts.
When Naiqama eased clear with alarming ease in the first set Huddersfield fans must have thought they were going to be in for a long evening.
However, that was far from the case.
Granted Saints winger Regan Grace did go over for the game’s first try after 12 minutes, but it did not signal any sort of cricket score.
Instead Giants struck with their first real chance of note just four minutes later.
Wardle cut a perfect line to slice through off Matt Frawley’s pass and go in from 20m out, Lee Gaskell adding the first of his two conversions.
His side defended superbly and with no little bite, too, props Suaia Matagi and Ukuma Ta’ai hitting half-backs Jonny Lomax and Theo Fages respectively with punishing tackles.
That certainly ensured Saints knew they were in a contest and it was no surprise when Lachlan Coote chose the option to kick a penalty to level at 6-6 in the 24th minute.
Young full-back Darnell McIntosh twice wasted possessions by firing passes into touch, but Gaskell – the former Saints stand-off returning from injury – executed perfectly to send out a long floated ball for Louis Senior to turn inside and see Aaron Murphy cross.
Fages responded, Lomax’s cut-out pass giving Grace some space before the winger expertly kicked infield for his team-mate, Coote converting for a 12-10 interval advantage.
Tommy Makinson palmed down Fages’s kick in the 51st minute for Coote to score, but the impressive Wardle powered in for his second try soon after.
Gaskell converted only, maddeningly, to see his side almost immediately go behind again to Naiqama’s score.
Huddersfield Giants: McIntosh; L Senior, Turner, Murphy, I Senior; Gaskell, Frawley; English, O’Brien, Matagi, J Wardle, Mellor, Clough. Substitutes: Leeming, Roberts, Hewitt, Ta’ai.
St Helens: Coote; Makinson, Naiqama, Costello, Grace; Lomax, Fages; Walmsley, Roby, Lees, Taia, Peyroux, Knowles. Substitutes: Paulo, Ashworth, Amor, Smith.
Referee: Scott Mikalauskas (Leigh).
Quarter-final draw: St Helens v Wakefield Trinity, Bradford Bulls v Halifax, Hull KR v Warrington, Hull FC v Catalans Dragons.