The Huddersfield Giants were left to a rue what might have been after running Warrington Wolves close in a thrilling play-off semi-final.
The Wolves opted to take on the Huddersfield Giants under the controversial ClubCall system rather than reigning champions Leeds and duly extended their winning run against them to nine matches.
Huddersfield, so often on the end of a battering by their “bogey” team, at least made a game of it this time before falling just short and going down valiantly 30-22 at the Halliwell Jones Stadium.
The Giants suffered a blow before kick-off when full-back Scott Grix pulled out through injury but 18-year-old Jake Connor stepped into the breach with confidence and scored one of their four tries which briefly gave them the lead.
Winger Joel Monaghan and second rower Simon Grix, younger brother of the Huddersfield full-back, both scored two tries for Warrington, who provided a fitting send-off for Adrian Morley and Garreth Carvell on their final home appearances.
The Wolves made a dream start, with Monaghan scoring the first of his side’s five tries after only two minutes courtesy of quick hands from Stefan Ratchford and Chris Bridge.
Huddersfield looked decidedly jittery in the early stages, with Lee Briers’ array of kicks causing panic in their defence, but they weathered the early storm and eventually worked their way into the contest.
A timely interception by skipper Danny Brough relieved the pressure and set up the position from which the Giants equalised in fortuitous fashion.
Luke Robinson’s grubber kick to the line bounced off defender Bridge and Brough was on hand to touch down, before adding the conversion.
Another fumble, this time from left winger Chris Riley, enabled the visitors to keep the pressure on and they went in front on 21 minutes when Connor joined the line and took three defenders over to touch down for his second try in as many matches.
Huddersfield were looking good value for their 10-6 lead but their indiscipline allowed their hosts to up the tempo, with hooker Michael Monaghan adding fresh impetus from the bench as they struck with two tries in a seven-minute spell before half-time.
Bridge got Monaghan over for his second try, which was a carbon copy of his first, and second rower Simon Grix was the first to reach the ball from Richie Myler’s kick on the last tackle.
Ratchford kicked his third conversion to make it 18-10 and there was little hint of a fightback in the early stages of the second half.
Joel Monaghan looked set to complete his hat-trick after collecting Briers’ high kick only to be forced back from the line but there was no denying centre Ryan Atkins moments later as he plucked the ball from the air to touch down.
Ratchford’s fourth goal opened up a 14-point lead but Huddersfield, who lost second rower Brett Ferres with a hand injury just before the interval, were in no mood to throw in the towel.
Robinson’s looping pass found right winger Jermaine McGillvary in space and he finished decisively at the corner for the Giants’ third try, to which Brough added his second goal.
Warrington then forced three goal-line drop-outs but Brough relieved the pressure with a superb touch-finder to regain possession and, just as the game appeared to be slipping away from Huddersfield, second rower Dale Ferguson took a reverse pass from hooker Shaun Lunt to sidestep his way over for their fourth try.
Brough’s third goal cut the gap to two points but Grix made the game safe six minutes from the end when he grabbed his second try after Briers’ kick bounced awkwardly in the visitors’ defence.
Ratchford, set to take over the full-back on a permanent role from the departing Brett Hodgson, maintained his 100% record by kicking his fifth conversion to round off the scoring.