HUDDERSFIELD Giants pushed Super League leaders St Helens close but ultimately fell out of the Coral Challenge Cup tonight.
Joe Wardle scored two tries and Simon Woolford’s side took the lead for a second time going into the final quarter but then never recovered after Kevin Naiqama’s 61st minute try.
It is a third successive loss for Huddersfield but they will take plenty of positives from this, not least the performances of wingers Innes and Louis Senior, the teenage twin brothers.
They both started with Giants missing England star Jermaine McGillvary and Fiji international Akuila Uate.
Saints, who have lost just once all year, now host Wakefield Trinity in the quarter-finals but they 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.
His side were fortunate to get back-to-back sets and the pressure eventually told as some slick handling saw the Welshman go over.
But 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 generally defended well 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 opted to take two points to level at 6-6 when awarded a penalty in the 24th minute.
It had quickly become obvious it would be a tight encounter.
Against a side of such pedigree, Giants needed to capitalise on every chance so they will have been disappointed to see young full-back Darnell McIntosh twice waste possessions by firing passes into touch.
Such profligacy normally haunts teams when playing Saints.
However, Woolford’s side executed perfectly soon after when Gaskell - the former Saints stand-off returning from injury - sent our a long floated ball for Louis Senior to turn inside and see Aaron Murphy cross.
Adam O’Brien had to act quickly to deny Fages as he tried going over on the last tackle but there was no denying the French half-back in the 34th minute.
Lomax’s cut-out pass gave Grace some space before the winger expertly kicked infield for his team-mate, Coote converting for a 12-10 interval advantage.
Tommy Makinson thought he had extended that at the start of the second period but the England winger was pulled back for a forward pass from his centre Naiqama.
They did cross when Makinson palmed down Fages kick in the 51st minute for Coote to score but he could not improve so the difference was still just six points.
That was eradicated when Wardle powered in for his second try six minutes later, Sam Hewitt having been denied moments before following a stunning tackle by Zeb Taia.
Gaskell converted only to, maddeningly, see his side almost immediately go behind again to Naiqama’s score and they never recovered.
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)