HUDDERSFIELD Giants suffered Wembley heartache after failing to deliver on the biggest of stages.
Despite going into their Challenge Cup final against Warrington in great shape and with confidence high on the back of such a magnificent season, coach Nathan Brown’s men proved a shadow of the usual Class of 2009.
Their normally rock-solid defence looked flimsy, while they were unable to demonstrate any sort of attacking edge because of the amount of ball they dropped.
It was, without doubt, in complete contrast to the performance that brought them their stunning semi-final success over St Helens and had raised hopes of Huddersfield lifting the Challenge Cup for the first time since 1953.
It’s possible the below-par display could have been due to too many players suffering the big freeze or a touch of over-confidence given the respective form of the two teams but, for whatever reason, this just wasn’t the Giants’ day.
At the same time, Warrington were right on top of their game, both defensively and offensively, and were to produce the sort of performance that has been lacking for so much of their Super League season.
The end result was, therefore, almost inevitable.
It was, however, inevitable Warrington were going to come out strongly after it had been the key to their semi-final success over Wigan.
But despite a solid opening first five drives, the Giants’ hopes of containing any early charge were shattered.
Brett Hodgson’s attempted kick downfield was charged down by Louis Anderson, and although the Giants skipper got back to catch his man after it did appear the Wolves man may have knocked-on in securing possession, the ball was swiftly worked out for Richie Mathers to crash over under the posts.
Chris Bridge converted, and Huddersfield were immediately on the back foot.
But within six minutes they had managed to settle to the task and a Shaun Lunt effort was only wiped out after the video referee ruled a double movement.
Two minutes later, however, the Cumbrian hooker wasn’t to be denied as he collected Brett Hodgson’s pass after outstanding work from David Faiumu to race away to score and for Hodgson to add the goal.
At 6-6 it looked as if the Giants were right back on track.
Unfortunately, that couldn’t have been further from the truth.
Straight from the kick-off Darrell Griffin lost possession on the first tackle and within seconds the position had been created for Lance Todd man-of-the-match winner Michael Monaghan to cross from acting half-back from close range with the minimum of effort.
Bridge again goaled and, with Huddersfield looking shaky in extreme both in attack and defence, it was no great surprise when Warrington added their third try.
From the restart, Lee Briers’ clever kick downfield was collected by Chris Riley to make ground before he was held down and Huddersfield were penalised for lying on.
And within a couple of plays from the tap, Bridge had fed Chris Hicks to finish off in the corner and run round for Bridge to bang over an easier conversion.
It could have got worse four minutes later when Matt King touched down in the corner from a Briers’ bomb, but video replays showed he had stolen the ball from Leroy Cudjoe when Riley was also involved in the tackle and the penalty was awarded.
That seemed to be the signal for the tide to turn.
In the 23rd minute it appeared as if great work from Kevin Brown had put David Hodgson over in the corner, but video referee Phil Bentham cruelly ruled Lunt had obstructed former Giants junior Bridge in the build-up to the ‘score’.
Lunt was then held up in the 31st minute before Liam Fulton’s grubber kick in the 36th minute forced a second Warrington drop-out in quick succession, and the Giants pounced.
With Huddersfield now by far the dominant power, the ball was kept alive superbly on the right for Fulton, Jamahl Lolesi and Cudjoe to combine magnificently for Brett Hodgson to finish in the corner.
Hodgson just failed with the touchline conversion, but at 18-10 at the break the Giants were right back in it.
For the Giants to stand a realistic chance of mounting a winning Challenge Cup fightback it was always going to be vital they didn’t concede the opening second-half try.
It looked as if Garreth Carvell had thwarted those plans after seven minutes when he stretched out to score, but the tackle had already been completed.
Unforced errors again proved the Giants’ downfall as they threatened to get on top, and they were eventually punished as the Wolves pounced for a fourth score that appeared to bang the opening nail into the Giants’ coffin.
In the 58th minute, Briers smart kick to the corner forced a drop-out and from the next set Monaghan’s craft and strength provided Vinnie Anderson with the space to race in from 15 metres under the posts for another converted score.
Bridge should have extended the Warrington lead with 64th-minute penalty but missed with the narrowly straightforward kick and only fantastic defence held up King on the tryline.
Five minutes later great hands helped send Paul Whatuira racing away, but with the cover doing its job, he was forced to find the supporting David Hodgson, who was quickly wrapped up and the danger had gone.
The winger was not to be denied with five minutes remaining, however, when another great move gave Hodgson the chance to finish off superbly in the corner.
Giants skipper Brett landed the touchline conversion and at 24-16 there was a slight glimmer of hope.
But from the restart, Huddersfield were unable to register dream back-to-back scores and with a minute remaining Briers sealed the Giants fate with a trademark drop goal to send home the fans in claret and gold bitterly disappointed.
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