HUDDERSFIELD GIANTS were given the fright of their lives before scraping home at brave Batley Bulldogs.
Although the Super League visitors claimed the victory, it was their hosts from the Co-operative Championship who gained all the plaudits.
They battled from start to finish as if their lives depended on it to ensure coach Nathan Brown and his men suffered the most uncomfortable of rides.
So much so, that midway through the second half a shock Batley win was very much on the cards.
They deservedly led 18-10 and had they gone on to take the Cup spoils no-one could really have argued.
But in the final quarter, the Giants’ superior fitness told as they ran in four tries, albeit helped by the 65th-minute dismissal of Batley back-rower Dane Manning for a high tackle on Larne Patrick.
Ultimately, that was to make all the difference in the world, leaving Batley to reflect on what might have been – while the Giants were able to blow a huge collective sigh of relief.
Yet there was little to suggest early on that the visitors could be in for such a nervy afternoon.
Despite Brown making eight changes from the side narrowly beaten 13-12 at Catalans Dragons a week ago, including handing a debut to back-row forward Jacob Fairbank, the Giants were quickly into their stride.
A strong fifth-minute Danny Brough break created the position for Darrell Griffin to make ground.
He was eventually held close to the Bulldogs line, but within a minute Kevin Brown collected close in, sold a dummy and crashed over and Brough added the goal.
At that stage the Batley faithful must have feared the worst, but for the rest of the half the Bulldogs were the dominant force.
Former Giants Academy hooker Kris Lythe, Jason Walton and David Tootill all came desperately close to scoring for the home side, who deservedly gained their reward after 22 minutes.
Having been penalised from a scrum on halfway, the Giants were punished to the full as the position was created for Paul Handforth’s pass to send Manning charging through a gap unopposed.
Handforth converted and it was game on!
Brough’s kick-off went out on the full and again the visitors paid the highest price.
Within a couple of plays the ball had been worked to the left for Ian Preece to keep the ball alive in the tackle and Walton supported well to finish strongly in the corner. Handforth converted.
But in the closing minutes of the half Batley began to tire and the Giants were back level just before the break.
Strong work from Luke O’Donnell enabled the former Australian Test back-rower to keep the ball alive and he found Leroy Cudjoe who immediately fed Lee Gilmour to score an unconverted try.
Batley were then forced to drop out for the first time and substitute Jon Molloy almost put the Giants back in front, suggesting Huddersfield had plenty left in the tank for the second half.
A strong break from Fairbank after the restart almost put Brough clear as the Giants threatened to step up a gear.
Yet it was the home side who again showed their Bulldog spirit to take the game by the scruff of the neck and looked like causing an upset.
In the 48th minute they regained the lead when Handforth’s kick on the sixth tackle failed to be cleared and former Giants winger Alex Brown was on hand to get the vital touch.
Handforth added the goal and four minutes later he landed a penalty to increase Batley’s lead to eight points, and the Giants’ alarm bells were starting to ring.
Yet just as in the first half, the longer the game progressed the more the Super League club’s fitness came to the fore.
After 63 minutes the Giants hit back when Eorl Crabtree took the ball to halfway and fed Brough who showed great pace to race in at the corner.
To make matters worse for the men from Mount Pleasant, Manning was sent off straight from the restart when he caught Larne Patrick with a high shot.
From then on it was always going to be an uphill struggle for the part-timers.
Within two minutes good work from Molloy and Kyle Wood gave Joe Wardle the chance to finish off in the corner to level the scores.
As the home side tired Huddersfield grabbed two tries in the final eight minutes to secure their hard-earned place in the fifth round.
First to strike was David Hodgson who finished well supporting a break on halfway by Shaun Lunt and Danny Kirmond.
Again Brough was unable to add the extras, and at 22-18 the final outcome was far from settled.
But with two minutes remaining Cudjoe collected a Handforth kick deep inside his own territory and embarked on a magical weaving run to finish under the posts for Brough to goal, complete the scoring and end a fascinating cup tie that was so much closer than the final scoreline suggests.
Bradford’s fifth round clash with Wigan will be televised by BBC on Sunday, May 22, with Wakefield v Castleford screened the day before.