HUDDERSFIELD Giants’ three England stars all emerged with credit after falling 32-20 to a far more vastly-experienced Exiles side.
Scrum-half Danny Brough marked his debut with a solid if unspectacular showing, while England ‘regulars’ Eorl Crabtree and Leroy Cudjoe didn’t put a foot wrong all night. In fact, Cudjoe’s 77th-minute try was thoroughly deserved.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough to prevent a defeat in front of what Rugby Football League chiefs will have to admit was a bitterly disappointing 7,865 Galpharm crowd.
But with the way the trio contributed, they certainly haven’t done their chances of playing in the autumn end-of-season series against Wales and France any serious harm at all. There were definitely weaker ‘candidates’ on the night.
Crabtree, in particular, was a real handful in the opening quarter, and showed he could be ready to fill some of the very sizeable hole left by the international retirement of inspirational England captain Jamie Peacock.
But it was a former Giant who had the first say, with Exiles captain Brett Hodgson giving his side a fourth-minute lead after finishing off an excellent move from deep.
The Exiles captain also added the conversion to make it 6-0 to the overseas Super League stars.
Only a great tackle on the tryline by Tom Briscoe on Daniel Holdsworth prevented the Exiles from extending their lead midway through the half, and within minutes England were turning defence into attack in devastating style.
Having done well to halt another dangerous raid on their line, Ryan Atkins collected the ball inside his own 20 and somehow found a way through heavy traffic before stepping on the gas to race in to score in the corner.
Much to the Galpharm fans’ delight, Brough added an excellent touchline conversion and it was all square.
At that stage, Crabtree was handed a well-earned breather after an excellent opening stint.
And within five minutes of his departure, the exciting foreign legion - led magnificently by the ageless Steve Menzies - were back in front when another well-worked long-range move was finished off smartly by Scott Dureau under the posts for Hodgson to add the extras.
But in the 36th minute the lead was down to two, when Brough teased the Exiles defence and fed Cudjoe to make ground and then release Josh Charnley to finish strongly, although on this occasion the Giants No7 saw his conversion attempt drift narrowly wide.
That didn’t seem to go down well within the Exiles, who almost immediately struck for a third time when Hodgson’s cut-out pass enabled Joel Monaghan to crash over in the corner and make it 16-10 at the break.
Another pass from former Huddersfield skipper Hodgson again did the damage at the start of the second half as Francis Meli took full advantage to crash in at the corner. The lead was now 10 points.
The re-introduction of Crabtree initially breathed new life into England’s challenge, and he almost scored within moment of his return.
But the Exiles – and Hodgson – struck again in the 55th minutes when the influential full-back dived over for his second and added the extras.
At 26-10, England had a mountain to climb, although they were far from finished.
Just three minutes later the hosts had struck for a third time when Brough’s long cut-out pass put Tom Briscoe over in the corner
Almost inevitably, the Exiles found the perfect response as Holdsworth’s break put Meli over for a second, goaled by Hodgson. 32-14.
But it was fitting two of the Giants were to have the final say on their home ground as Cudjoe touched down in the corner for Brough to add a magnificent touchline conversion with three minutes remaining.