Saints 42-22 Huddersfield Giants
Saints sealed a trip to a fifth successive Grand Final with a hard fought victory over an in-form Huddersfield Giants outfit who sniffed their best ever opportunity of playoff glory.
The closeness of this game can be judged by the number of tries scored from grubbers, chips and bombs. Defences were tight despite the number of touchdowns and the wise sought advantage wherever they could.
Indeed teenage winger and goal-kicker, Jamie Foster’s, seven from seven conversion rate proved hugely influential in keeping the pressure on Huddersfield whilst the game was close.
Ultimately though it was the power in Saints’ pack that proved the difference. Specifically the indomitable spirit of soon-to-retire skipper, Keiron Cunningham, as typified by his stunning 15 metre drive, barrelling through tiring defence for the killer try with 6 minutes remaining.
Right from the start of the game the atmosphere in what was billed as the final competitive rugby league game at Knowsley Road was special; as sharp and edgy as a porcupine with a shiv up its trouser leg.
The Saints took an early lead when Bryn Hargreaves reacted quickest to Matty Smith’s dab in goal; touching down between the posts and giving Foster and easy conversion.
But nerves played a big part too, Leroy Cudjoe unable to gather a routine up and under by Jon Wilkin inside the Giants 20. Two plays later Cunningham was spoon-feeding a pass to Hargreaves who spun from the tackle to touchdown between the posts again. Foster’s kick opened a 12-point gap.
The Giants threatened early in the second quarter, with a great tackle from Gidley halting Gilmour’s drive to the line. And Wellens forced to defend a deep and dangerous long kick from Brough.
How much this was attributable to the substitution of James Graham is debatable, But it was no surprise when Brett Hodgson sent Shaun Lunt barging through a gap at left centre to touchdown.
Both sides were in full flight playing the game at a frantic pace, but the Giants had Saints on the back foot. They took advantage of field position on Saints line to swing the ball wide to the right where Michael Lawrence cashed-in on the overlap to score. Hodgson’s touchline conversion levelled the scores and ratcheted-up the playoff tension a good old notch.
The impressive Foster, preferred ahead of the experience Ade Gardner, made one of a series of telling and timely interventions; stepping in 10 metres out to sweep up a dangerous kick from the feet of the pursuing Giants. But with eight minutes remaining in the half the Giants were soon back on the offensive.
A great kick and chase from Smith and Gidley helped to peg the Giants back, stemming their momentum. Then with five minutes to go to the break Wellens took and inside pass on a diagonal angle inside the Giants 20 before sprinting in at right centre for the score Foster.
Although desperate defence from Foster, Smith and Gidley stymied Lee Gilmour on the left flank, Danny Brough’s testing cross-field kick stretched the Saints defence wide, with Lawrence running down his own grubber to score at the right corner. Crucially, Hodgson’s conversion attempt from the touchline fell just short.
The Giants maintained their momentum in the early stages of the second half though, with ex-Saints’ star Gilmour scrambling to get to a grubber at the left corner and put the visitors ahead. Hodgson’s third touchline conversion to madee it 22-18.
Lost possession and poor decision making, plus the loss of the largely ineffectual Kyle Eastmond to an ankle injury, hampered Saints’ efforts to respond. And as the disciplined Giants’ defence dug-in for the long haul the Saints recalled Cunningham from the bench. That sound youhear? It’s horn; the cavalry are here.
And sure enough the home side respond. James Roby taking the ball from acting half back and dabbing it in goal, where the alert Wellens pounced to touchdown. An age later the video referee confirmed the score. All square. Until Foster’s conversion edged Saints ahead.
They extended that lead on the hour when Tony Puletua spun out of the grasp to crash over by the posts. Foster’s fifth goal gave Saints an 8-point advantage with 17-minutes remaining.
With 15 minutes remaining anopther barnstorming drive from Puletua was just thwarted on the line by a three man Giants tackle. Then in short order: Roby was held-up in goal on the next play and Graham was hauled down a metre short next. In the end numbers told with Sia Soliola slipping the ball back from a tackle and Matt Gidley working the ball wide left where Francis Meli dove low to score. Foster’s sixth conversion put Saints 14-points clear and Old Trafford bound.
The Giants Shaun Lunt was denied a try by the video referee on 69 minutes, ruled to be grounded short after regathering a Wellens fumble of Luke Robinson’s grubber kick.
Fittingly it was Cunningham who sealed the game, rolling back the years to storm in for the final try at Knowsley Road as the curtain came down on the stadium for the last time. Foster converted.
Wellens, Foster, Gidley, Soliola, Meli, Smith, Eastmond, Graham, Cunningham, Hargreaves. Puletua, Wilkin, Flannery
Subs: Roby, Clough, Dixon, Emmitt
T: Hargreaves (6,14), Wellens (35, 57 ), Puletua (60), Meli 65), Cunningham (74)
G: Foster 7/7
Hodgson, Cudjoe, Lawrence, Gilmour, D Hodgson, Brown, Robinson, Griffin, Brough, Mason, Lunt, Fa’alogo, Wild
Subs: Crabtree, Kirmond, Faiumu, Patrick
T: Lunt (24), Lawrence (30, 39), Gilmour (50)
G: B Hodgson 3/4
- 6 Hargreaves try, Foster goal 6-0
Hargreaves pounces on Smiths grubber
- 14 Hargreaves try Foster goal 2/2 12-0
Hargreaves plunges over from KC pass
- 23 Shaun Lunt try, B HOdgson goal 12-6
Lunt races thropugh gap at left centre
- 30 Michael Lawrence try, Hodgson goal 2./2 12-12
Lawrence dives in at right corne
- 35 Paul Wellens try, Foster goal 3/3 18-12
Wellens angled run to right centre
- 39 Michael Lawrence try 18-16
Lawrence chases down own kick to corner
- 50 Lee Gilmour try, Hodgson goal 3/4 18-22
Pounces on grubber at left corner
- 57 Paul Wellens try, Foster goal 4/4 24-22
Wellens chases down Roby grubber
- 60 Tony Puletua try, Foster goal 5/5 30-22
Puletua spins from tackle to crash over
- 65 Francis Meli try, Foster goal 6/6 36-22
Meli dives low to beat the tackle at left corner
- 74 Keiron Cunningham try, Foster goal 7/7 42-22
Cunningham won’t be stopped from 10-metres