IN-FORM Huddersfield Giants made it five Super League victories on the trot with a thrilling 26-25 triumph against fellow resurgent side Catalans Dragons.
On the day the home side offered free tickets and attracted a season highest attendance of 9,121 , Giants officials couldn’t have hoped for a better – or more dramatic - spectacle in their effort to entice new supporters through the John Smith’s Stadium turnstiles.
After fighting their way back from an 18-0 deficit in as many minutes, the hosts eventually sealed victory in the 77th minute when 20-year-old scrum half Oliver Russell landed a 15m penalty from in front of the posts to seal the visitors’ fate.
It was the boot of birthday boy Josh Drinkwater, who was celebrating turning 26, which did all of the damage for Catalans in the 0pening quarter, setting up three tries on a plate for his grateful teammates.
The first to profit was Brayden Williame, who followed up Drinkwater’s grubber to get the vital touch by the posts to pave the way for the in-form scrum half to land the first of his four first-half conversions.
Drinkwater then chipped to the left for Vincent Duport to finish wide out, before the half-back dabbed the ball to the right to allow David Mead to leap high and grab his side’s third converted score to make it 18-0 in as many minutes. At that stage, the Dragons were on fire.
But on virtually the Giants’ first serious raid inside their opponents’ territory, Oliver Russell sent out a perfectly-timed pass for Alex Mellor to stroll over for a 22nd-minute try which Russell goaled with ease.
Although that score was well-created, the try of the half came three minutes later and was full of French flair as Julian Bousquet and Tony Gigot combined close to the Huddersfield line to send Remi Casty over under the posts.
Drinkwater’s conversion restored Catalans’ 18-point lead.
But by half-time the advantage had been cut to 10 as the Giants finished with a flourish.
Darnell McIntosh made the most of some sluggish French defence to touch down in the corner in the 32nd minute and then Leroy Cudjoe kept the ball alive for Jermaine McGillvary to cross five minutes later and keep the contest alive.
It was all Huddersfield at the start of the second half, although it took them 16 minutes to finally break the French resistance as Adam O’Brien squirmed his way over from acting half-back close to the line in trademark fashion.
Unfortunately, Russell failed on a third occasion to keep Catalans one score ahead.
That lead, however, was finally cancelled out 10 minutes later when Drinkwater’s long pass was intercepted by McGillvary on his own 10m line to race the length of the field, with Russell this time on target to level up at 24-24 with 16 minutes remaining.
Michael McIlorum’s drop-goal attempt to nudge his side back ahead three minutes later hit a post and bounced back into the arms of a relieved Giant, but there was no denying Gigot his one-pointer in the 74th minute.
But the Huddersfield response couldn’t have been better as the hosts took play downfield and forced Sam Moa to concede a penalty for interference and Russell calmly landed the goal with three minutes to play.
Catalans looked to have snatched it with 90 seconds left on the clock, but Benjamin Julien’s effort was ruled offside in what proved the most dramatic of finishes.