Huddersfield Giants ended a forty-seven year wait to return to Wembley Stadium with a stirring victory over league leading St. Helens at the Halliwell Jones Stadium, Warrington.
The Giants haven’t been to the twin towers since, well, since there were twin towers; losing 12-6 to Wakefield Trinity in 1962. However the infusion of discipline, confidence and attacking freedom instilled by new coach, Nathan Brown, has transformed the club at the birthplace of rugby league.
Huddersfield Giants are going back to Wembley for the first time since the old Wembley was the new Wembley; well almost. It was in black and white and involved Eddie Waring anyway.
Former Wigan half back, Luke Robinson, displayed his maturing talent as he organised and prompted the Huddersfield Giants offence, which exploited a lack of pace and confidence in the Saints defence, which struggled to handle the Giants’ high bomb attack all afternoon.
The Giant were out of the blocks quickly and enjoyed the lions share of possession in the opening quarter as their forwards kept a tight rein on the Saints six.
The inventive play inspired by coach, Nathan Brown, was evident when Luke Robinson cracked the Saints defence wide open to give Jamahl Lolesi the first chance. Then a superb break down the right, again initiated by Robinson, ended with Brett Hodgson crossing at right centre for a 4-0 lead.
Saints hit back quickly though with a penalty for offside aiding their cause. Winger, Francis Meli, sprinting in at the left corner from Jon Wilkins’ long ball to tie the game.
With both defences to the fore chances remain at a premium, although Saints seem to be nursing their forwards. They let Gardner, Wellens and Pryce successively cart the ball upfield before Graham’s bust sent Eastmond bouncing from a tackle and sprinting for the posts only to be downed by Hodgson. The disciplined Giants defence regrouped to rebuff the Saints again.
The injection of James Roby’s pace around the ruck immediately troubled the Giants an he was instrumental in the build-up to Leon Pryce barging over in the 27th minute, scooting away from Graham’s play the ball after the forwards massive drive. It was all to no avail though with the video referee ruling no grounding.
Saints wasted the remainder of that possession through lack of composure, with Brett Hodgson sweeping up Eastmond’s grubber on the final tackle to clear the danger.
With Gardner unable to cling to Liam Fulton’s massive cloud-scraping bomb the Giants were soon pressing forward. Robinson directing play with Eastmond’s tackle on David Hiodgson at the left corner dislodging the ball and preventing a certain score.
The Giants sparkling football bubbled through again as half time beckoned. Robinson breaking the line on his own 40 to send Brown clear with loads of support, Stephen Wild crossing at the left corner untouched. Brett Hodgson’s conversion sealed an encouraging first half for the sleeping Giants of Yorkshire.
Robinson picked-up an injury defending the line from Gidley’s grubber on the stroke of half tiem the knock on giving Saijnts one final chance to go in tied. But Brown and Hodgson are their to smother Eastmond’s angled run over the line. Another try-saver denied Gilmour as time ran out.
The Giants caught Saints cold at the start of the second stanza, Brown’s kick to the right corner exposing Paul Wellens lack of pace and allowing Leroy Cudjoe to extend the lead to 14-4.
Brown grabbed the next crucial score. Following up Robinson’s bomb, which was misfielded by Gardner under heavy pressure from Whaturia and collecting the rebound to dive over at left centre. Had Brett Hodgson been enjoying a better day with the boot then it would have been all over bar the shouting, but at 18-4 Saints still had a sniff of a chance.
Classic silky Saints skill then split the Giants’ defence wide open. Eastmond stood wide and took a long pass to spread the Giants defence, feeding Gilmour sprinting down the left flank. A deft kick through took him beyond the Giants defence, and linking inside via Wilkins to Meli who sped between the posts. Eastmond’s goal brought the score to 10-18 and the game was back on.
Suddenly it was the Saints surging forward. Pryce, Puletua and Cunningham plundering yards up the middle and Dean halted by desperate tackling at the right corner.
When the Giants came up with the error in their own 20 it invited the Saints to the table, only for Puletua to return the favour, trying to swat defenders off with first right, then left, then both hands … oops.
It’s that lack of composure in good field position that has been Saints downfall today, but the credit for that goes to some smothering defence from the Giants as the implement Nathan Brown’s game plan flawlessly.
Saints continued to pile on the pressure in the final fifteen minutes, with Brown just collaring Eastmond as the speedy halfback threatened to get outside the defence and Cudjoe was forced to knock the ball dead as Wilkins’ lob sought out Meli in the left corner.
Trailing by eight with time ticking into the 70s the Saints looked unlikely winners. Stale in attack and lacking the incisiveness necessary to break the Giants line they increasingly relied upon the kicking game and errors to opent the way back into the game.
But a second try for Wild killed the game. The second rower chased backed-up Brett Hodgson’s break and pounced on the kick forward, again exposing Wellens slowness in the turn and chase. Hodgson’s goal made it 24-10.
A late touchdown brought Meil his hat trick, but it was a hollow achievement as time ticked out on the Saints’ ninth consecutive cup semi final.
Saints: 1 Wellens, 2 Gardner, 3 Gidley, 19 Dean, 5 Meli, 6 Pryce, 18 Eastmond, 10 Graham, 9 Cunningham, 16 Puletua, 13 Flannery, 12 Wilkin, 11 Gilmour Subs: 15 Hargreaves, 14 Roby, 17 Clough, 24 Dixon
T: Meli(13, 52, 74)
G: Eastmond 1/3
Huddersfield: 1 B Hodgson, 21 Cudjoe, 11 Lolesi, 4 Whatuira, 5 Hodgson, 3 Brown, 7 Robinson, 16 Mason, 20 Moore, 10 Griffin, 13 Wild, 6 Fulton, 9 Faiumu Subs: 24 Lunt, 8 Crabtree, 15 Jackson, 18 Kirkmond
T: B Hodgson (9), Wild (37, 72), Cudjoe (41), Brown (50)
G: B Hodgson 2/5
9 B Hodgson try, B Hodgson miss 0-4
13 Meli try, Eastmond miss 4-4
37 Wild try, B Hodgson goal 1/2 4-10
** Half Time
41 Cudjoe try, B Hodgson miss 4-1450 Brown try, B Hodgson miss 4-1852 Meli try, Eastmond goal 10-18
72 Wild try, B Hodgson goal 10-24
Referee: Richard Silverwood