Huddersfield Giants' wonderful season ended in heartache as Warrington inflicted another cruel blow on Paul Anderson’s battlers.
For the fourth time this season, the minor Super League XVIII champions were beaten by the Wolves.
But this defeat obviously hurt the most, with the Giants missing out on a first Old Trafford Grand Final appearance – and one which they were so close to achieving.
Whereas they were comfortably beaten on the previous three occasions, this one went right down to the wire, with the result hanging in the balance until Simon Grix’s second try with five minutes remaining to finally seal an absorbing contest.
Before that gut-wrenching score, the Giants looked as if they were about to pull off a major Super League great escape, fighting back from 24-10 after 50 minutes to trail by just two points with Dale Ferguson’s 71st minute try.
And at that point the Old Trafford dream wax very much alive – until Grix’s clincher.
However, the last thing the Giants wanted against their bogey side was to concede an early try, but that’s exactly what happened!
On Warrington’s first set, the visitors conceded a try on the last tackle as the ball was whipped out to the right for Joel Monaghan to finish in the corner.
Stefan Ratchford added the touchline conversion, and Huddersfield’s worst fears had been realised.
But on this occasion the response of Paul Anderson’s men couldn’t have been better.
Within minutes of skipper Danny Brough racing 60 metres after intercepting close to his own line, his half back partner Luke Robinson was stabbing a grubber kick through for Brough to touch down under the posts after the home defence had failed to clear.
Brough’s conversion made it 6-6 after eight minutes and the Giants were finally ready to underline their champion credentials.
And in the 22nd minute they were ahead for the first time when 18-year-old full-back Jake Connor marked his second Super League appearance by charging through a gap close to the line and showing great strength to touch down.
Brough failed to add the touchline conversion, but at that stage it was looking very, very good for the Giants.
In fact, it should have got even better eight minutes later when the lively Ukuma Ta’ai shot through a gap in Wolves territory and so nearly got the ‘glory ball’ away.
Instead, Warrington made the most of their let-off to take play straight down the other end for Monaghan to score a carbon copy of his first, again excellently converted by Ratchford.
Then five minutes later, after Ta’ai’s top tackle had denied Lee Briers, Richie Myler kicked-through on the sixth tackle for Simon Grix to take advantage of his favourable bounce for converted try No3 to make it 18-10 at the break.
Warrington continued to dominate at the start of the second half and extended their lead within six minutes of the restart when Briers kicked to the corner on the sixth tackle for Ryan Atkins to leap highest and score another converted try.
At 24-10 the signs were looking ominous.
But again, the under-pressure Giants showed their champion qualities as Jermaine McGillvary finished superbly in the corner for Brough to land the touchline goal.
Dale Ferguson was then placed on report for a high shot on Chris Riley to relieve the growing pressure on the home side’s line, with the Giants having to follow up by defending repeat sets from three successive drop-outs.
As the contest tightened significantly, the Giants were forced to drop-out for a fourth time before forcing their first on the Wolves with 10 minutes remaining.
And from the subsequent set, the ball was taken to the line for Dale Ferguson to crash over for Brough to convert and reduce the gap to two points.
At that stage it looked as if the Giants could do it.
But three minutes later, Briers ‘bomb’ failed to be diffused by the Huddersfield defence and Grix gleefully collected to score his second, which Ratchford again goaled to seal the contest.