Warrington Wolves 24 Huddersfield Giants 24
By Alan Domville (image courtesy of Neil Ashurst, P&B Pictures)
What a thriller that was! Warrington were in charge for almost 20 minutes before scoring, then Huddersfield hit back to build what appeared to be an unassailable lead by half time. Ben Harrison put Warrington back on track with two tries in as many minutes to restore the lead by a point before Danny Brough dropped a goal to level the scores two minutes from time.
Warrington and Huddersfield were two of four sides that began the weekend on 32 points with three games to play, the others being Leeds and Castleford. St Helens, three points clear of Wigan, who were on 33, led the way.
Both sides needed to win to strengthen their challenge for a top four position in the play-offs and could initially go second in the table for at least 24 hours.
A win for the Claret and Golds would lift them into the top four with two home games to come while Wolves would be on the road for their final fixtures.
In the event both sides had to settle for a point each.
History had been on Warrington’s side for a good result; they had not lost to the Giants in their last 10 encounters, a winning run stretching back three years and Huddersfield hadn’t won a league game at The Halliwell Jones Stadium for six years.
Both teams were also without key players. A definite non-starter for Tony Smith was in-form Chris Bridge who strained a hamstring in the game against Castleford and Stefan Ratchford was a late withdrawal. It meant Gareth O’Brien and Richie Myler linking up at half-back for the first time since March.
Simon Grix turned an ankle in training earlier in the week but was declared fit and Gene Ormsby came in on the right wing.
Ben Currie who had been sidelined since June was in the pre-match 19 but did not play while Roy Asotasi missed out.
Huddersfield head coach Paul Anderson was unable to include injured star forward Brett Ferres and centre Joe Wardle, while Leroy Cudjoe and David Faiumu returned to the side. Ruled out with a long term injury was Kyle Wood.
Initially it was all Warrington but the points didn’t come until a quarter of the game was nearly gone.
An early penalty led to the first offensive but O’Brien knocked on near the line. He made amends a minute later with neat dummy to set up the next attack but Scott Grix safely fielded an up and under from Myler.
Warrington came back again and this time it ended with Joel Monaghan losing possession when he was tackled in the air, an offence that went unpunished.
Michael Monaghan triggered the next offensive with a beautiful inside pass but Rhys Evans lost possession.
Soon afterwards Simon Grix sent out a lovely pass to Myler who went over but referee Ben Thaler, supported by video referee Phil Bentham, ruled the half back had knocked on.
After Shaun Lunt had knocked on Wolves came yet again but a Russell grubber was kicked dead in goal by Luke Robinson, blood streaming down his face, to concede a drop out.
From it came the breakthrough.
Westwood – a tower of strength all night - went close and then O’Brien was able to squirm his way over in the tackle. Gareth was able to convert and it was 6-0.
But then came a nightmare eight minutes for the Wolves.
Huddersfield looked dangerous for the first time and scored. Danny Brough kicked towards the posts and Chris Bailey was first to get the touch. Brough converted to equalise.
Soon afterwards Bailey was held up over the line and a subsequent charge down gave the visitors six more tackles and they capitalised. Ukuma Ta’ia raced over near the sticks and Brough added the extras.
They were nearly in again after Cudjoe raced upfield and O’Brien had to kick the ball dead.
From there Huddersfield earned six more tackles after a Warrington hand had touched the ball and Shaun Lunt forced his way over. Brough’s goal made it 18-6 for the visitors.
Warrington hit back but Laithwaite dropped a pass from O’Brien near the line.
Giants were almost in again but Evans was able to stop McGillvray by the corner flag.
Half a minute from the interval Danny Brough made the most of a good run by Lunt with a drop goal to stretch the visitors’ lead to 13.
An early second half raid from Huddersfield saw Lunt kick ahead but Evans was able to collect – but a shattering blow was to follow. A Myler kick to the line was collected by Lunt who sent Broughton racing 90 metres upfield for a try. Brough was unable to convert but it was 23-6.
And the visitors went straight on the offensive again and Joel Monaghan was penalised for a tackle to concede another six; fortunately Lunt knocked on. Two minutes later the visitors’ hooker was tackled just short.
Huddersfield’s tactics before and in the tackle were making them unpopular with the home crowd but the latter were soon to have something positive to shout about.
Warrington came back into the game at last and began a purple patch to gain the lead.
Initially, O’Brien kicked through and Atkins was able to touch down, Gareth adding the extras.
Soon afterwards Ben Harrison battled his way past three defenders to cross. O’Brien converted and now there were just five points in it.
In the next set, Russell, Higham and Evans combined to take the ball to the Huddersfield line and Harrison looked to have gone over again beneath the sticks. Ben Thaler referred the decision to Phil Bentham who ruled for the Wolves, giving the benefit of the doubt.
O’Brien converted and Wolves were ahead 24-23.
A high tackle by Lunt on O’Brien went unpunished and then came an electrifying run up the middle from Brough. What looked like a forward pass was spilled by Aaron Murphy.
With seven minutes left interference in the tackle near the Huddersfield sticks gave Warrington possession and when the ball went free Broughton knocked on.
Warrington swept the ball across to Evans who dived over in the corner but was injured in the tackle; the referee ruled he had gone into touch. Play was then held up for several minutes while the medical staff carried him from the field on a stretcher.
Simon Grix came back on to play at centre and Joel Monaghan switched to the wing.
An O’Brien kick and some stirring tackle penned Huddersfield back with three minutes left.
Then a huge Brough kick upfield was safely fielded by Joel Monaghan.
Cudjoe pinched the ball from second marker, upsetting man of the match Michael Monaghan, and Warrington nerves were jangling; from the position gained Brough dropped a goal to level the scores.
Warrington move up to third in the table and Huddersfield fourth.
Head of coaching and rugby Tony Smith said: “Great entertainment which is fantastic but, as a coach, we were disappointed with our first half. We weren’t far off it, we just weren’t on it. It was a little frustrating; you can tell when teams aren’t quite on it as they let in a couple of soft tries each...You don’t want to be in that sort of mood. We got ourselves out of it and found some energy, found some response and found some ways of speeding the game up as well…Entertaining game of Rugby League, not one we are overly proud of ourselves but at the same time we showed some spirit and showed a bit about ourselves to fight our way back into a position where, in the end, we probably should have managed a little bit better and won it…Hopefully we can hone in a bit better (next week) and improve again. They (Huddersfield) are a very good team. We are okay with what we did there, in the end. It’s nice to show some spirit…As a club and a team we could have easily rolled over there and say 19 points to six is too much to come back from; those days are gone, we fought really hard.”
On Rhys Evans following the tackle in the second half he added: “Rhys is okay which from our perspective is the most important thing rather than points gained or lost.”
And he also added how proud he is of the U19s who secured the league leaders’ title after their win today. “What a fantastic achievement…So proud of them and all the people who have been involved in the junior development at this club. They got their just desserts today and to be presented at halftime was a great honour and great achievement for our club.”
The Wolves U19s were presented with a trophy donated by Touchline to celebrate their top-place finish.
Matthew Russell, Gene Ormsby, Ryan Atkins, Joel Monaghan, Rhys Evans, Gareth O’Brien, Richie Myler, Chris Hill, Michael Monaghan, Ben Harrison, Trent Waterhouse, Ben Westwood, Simon Grix
Subs: Micky Higham, Paul Wood, James Laithwaite, Anthony England
Tries: O'Brien, Atkins, Harrison (2)
Goals: O'Brien (4)
Scott Grix, Jermaine McGillvary, Leroy Cudjoe, Aaron Murphy, Jodie Broughton, Danny Brough, Luke Robinson, Eorl Crabtree, Shaun Lunt, Antonio Kaufusi, Larne Patrick, Michael Lawrence, Chris Bailey
Subs: Craig Kopczak, David Faiumu, Ukuma Ta’ai, Jacob Fairbank
Tries: Bailey, Ta'ai, Lunt, Broughton
Goals: Brough (3)
Drop Goals: Brough (2)
Half Time: 6 - 19
Full Time: 24 - 24
Photo gallery courtesy of Bob Brough