HUDDERSFIELD Giants fans took another ride on the Super League rollercoaster at Knowsley Road.

And after the highs of the wins over Wigan and Leeds came the low of last night's heart-breaking last-gasp loss to St Helens.

Tony Smith's battlers were within two minutes of their first win at the venue since 1978 and their first double over Saints in 52 years.

But the home side, who were able to show only occasional flashes of the skills which made them Super League champions last season, staged an act of escapology which had home fans in a 9,288 crowd breathing a sigh of relief and left the travelling faithful with their heads in their hands.

What made the final scoreline even harder to stomach for the claret and gold band behind the posts the Giants were attacking in the second half was that they had just seen close-up their favourites piling on the pressure in a bid to stretch an 18-16 lead and seal a third successive win.

When Stanley Gene's awkward kick just evaded the stretching Paul Reilly but still forced Saints to scramble the ball dead and then kick out, the stage seemed set for an up the jumper finish by the Giants.

But determined hooker Keiron Cunningham forced Iain Morrison to spill possession early in the tackle count, and the resulting scrum provided one last set of six for Saints which finished with Paul Wellens surging over and Sean Long adding the goal for a four-point advantage.

Wellens' sin-binning had proved costly for Ian Millward's men during a first half in which Huddersfield scored 14 points without reply thanks to two more sparkling tries by in-form Brandon Costin, who has now crossed the whitewash in six successive games and taken his tally for the season to 16.

To be fair to Saints, they looked far stronger in the second half, when Wellens' move from full-back to centre helped put the clamp on Costin, but even though their error rate rose markedly, the Giants rightly felt more than a little hard done by.

Normally, to push the reigning champions so close on their own patch would be a cause for optimism, but given recent results and the raised level of expectation, this defeat will have been a bitter pill to swallow.

That speaks volumes for the progress being made under the intelligent Australian coach, whose side more than lived up to their recent rave reviews in the opening half.

With centre Julian Bailey and prop Darren Fleary to the fore, they soaked up Saints' early attacks before striking ruthlessly in the seventh minute.

There seemed little immediate danger from a scrum on the Giants 40, but loose-forward Steve McNamara's swift pass freed the fleet-footed Costin, who cruised through a gap and beat the chase of Mike Bennett to plunge between the posts and leave McNamara with a simple goal.

Saints, who had lost Great Britain star Paul Sculthorpe to a hamstring injury, looked at sixes and sevens, and Bailey went close after Anthony Stewart knocked on under his own posts.

McNamara did stretch the lead with a 15th-minute penalty awarded for a professional foul by Wellens on Lee St Hilaire which brought a yellow card.

And the Giants made the most of their numerical superiority in the 20th minute when Paul March picked out Costin, whose mazy run left three challengers on the floor and paved the way for another McNamara goal.

Long sent the kick-off out on the full, and with the resultant penalty banged into touch to set up another attack, it took a desperate tackle by Chris Joynt to deny the rampaging Jim Gannon.

Darren Turner and Morrison had to make crucial challenges on Wellens and Long, but it was Huddersfield who were looking the more dangerous, with Costin going agonisingly close to a hat trick after more good work by March.

Another try at that stage (the 38th minute) would have given Saints a mountain to climb, but having survived, coach Millward took the chance to re-organise at the break and his side finally broke through when Darren Albert finished off good work by fellow winger Stewart on 46 minutes, when Long added the goal.

A rare Reilly slip set up the scrum which led to Saints' second, scored from close range by Cunningham and goaled by Long, in the 50th minute.

Costin gave the Giants a little extra breathing space with a penalty on the hour, but Saints drew level when Albert squeezed over for his second try on 63 minutes in a move which began when after Ben Roarty was beaten to a loose ball by the alert Wellens.

There was controversy when Long's conversion was disallowed by referee Ian Smith after one touch judge raised his flag and the other kept his down.

And home discontent increased when McNamara kicked a long-range penalty to make it 18-16 in the 67th minute.

However it was Saints who had the final say of an entertaining contest.


Giants: Reilly, St Hilaire, Costin, Bailey, O'Hare, Gene, March, Fleary, Turner, Gannon, O'Doherty, Roarty, McNamara; Grayshon, Slicker, Morrison, Whitaker

St Helens: Wellens, Stewart, Hooper, Gleeson, Albert, Long, Higham, Britt, Cunningham, Mason, Joynt, Bennett, Sculthorpe; Jonkers, Edmondson, Jones, Kirkpatrick


BRANDON COSTIN is the player who is making things happen for the Giants, and his two-try salvo in the first half put them in sight of what would have been a major achievement.


IT TOOK some desperate scrambling defence to deny Costin a hat trick of tries when he was set up by Paul March (again) in the 38th minute. A 20-point lead at the break would have proved very hard for Saints to overcome.


Giants: Tries: Costin 7 and 20mins. Goals: McNamara 4/4, Costin 1/1.

St Helens: Tries: Albert 46 and 63mins, Cunningham 50mins, Wellens 78mins. Goals: Long 3/4. Sin-binning: Wellens 15mins, holding down.

Half-time: St Helens 0 Giants 14.

Referee: Ian Smith (Oldham).

Attendance: 9,288.

Scrums won: Giants 10 St Helens 7.

Penalties conceded: Giants 5 St Helens 6.

Pictures © Graham Lynch Photography