HUDDERSFIELD returned to the top of Super League and celebrated back-to-back wins over world champions Leeds after a thoroughly deserved Headingley triumph,
The Giants’ rock-solid success coupled with Warrington’s 28-16 defeat at home to St Helens means Nathan Brown’s men head into the tough Easter period with their confidence sky high after finding the perfect response to their miserable 40-22 loss at Hull KR.
At the heart of a victory witnessed by new England rugby union chief Stuart Lancaster was a magnificent defensive display which proved far too strong for the defending Super League champions to break down.
But the Giants also showed their undoubted attacking qualities by scoring four tries which were right out of the top drawer.
Despite suffering a compound fracture of a finger at Hull KR five days ago, David Fa’alogo was handed a first start following major close-season back surgery while fellow international second rower Luke O’Donnell was named on the bench to mark his return from a knee reconstruction in August last year.
There was, of course, no Kevin Brown due to an ankle injury, with the captain’s place at loose-forward being taken by Tommy Lee.
There were some notable absentees in the Leeds line-up, with Rob Burrow, Danny McGuire, Brent Webb, Jamie Jones-Buchanan and Ryan Bailey all missing.
And that was reflected in the sluggish start the home side made as the visitors did all the early running.
But despite having the lions’ share of possession, with Fa’alogo and Jason Chan very much to the fore, the errors that proved so costly in the defeat at Hull KR last weekend were again frustratingly on show as numerous spilled balls ruined any chance of building up an early lead.
Those missed opportunities clearly gave the hosts a lift and as the half progressed, the Rhinos became more of a threat.
It was no surprise when they opened the scoring after 25 minutes, when Kevin Sinfield’s perfectly-judged crossfield kick was plucked out of the air by Zak Hardaker, who went over the whitewash with ease.
Sinfield added the conversion and Leeds had the upper hand – although not for long.
Within five minutes, the Giants had drawn level when the impressive Chan was halted on the line, and Danny Brough’s pass from acting half-back enabled Eorl Crabtree to cross for the creator to add the extras.
Five minutes later, explosive back rower Chan wasn’t going to be denied as he supported an excellent Scott Grix break and showed his pace over 20 metres to beat the cover and charge over in the corner for Brough to land an excellent touchline goal to make it 12-6 at the break.
Larne Patrick almost gave Huddersfield the perfect start to the second half but was adjudged to have lost the ball over the line under heavy pressure.
Greg Eden made sure there was no mistake in the 53rd minute, however, as he pounced on Jermaine McGillvary’s delightful kick infield to slice through unopposed from 25 metres for converted try number three.
And the visitors were celebrating again just three minutes later when Grix, Eden, Brough and Leroy Cudjoe combined superbly for McGillvary to finish in the corner.
On this occasion, Brough was unable to add the extras, but at 22-6 the Giants were in a strong position.
Leeds gave themselves a flicker of hope with 12 minutes remaining when Sinfield’s reverse pass sent Kyle Leuluai charging over for a second converted score.
But the Giants were in no mood to be denied and again called on their excellent defensive qualities in the closing stages to snuff out any further Rhinos threat.