Published in League Express in 2009
ST HELENS 14
HUDDERSFIELD GIANTS 24
The Halliwell Jones Stadium, Warrington
HUDDERSFIELD Giants reached their tenth Challenge Cup final yesterday with a magnificent victory over Cup-holders and Super League leaders, St Helens. Their 24-14 triumph gives them their first visit to Wembley since 1962 and providing fitting reward for a magnificent season so far.
Twelve months ago, lying third last in Super League, only victory in the Carnegie Floodlit 9s, could provide them with any cheer. But after three-quarters of a season under the coaching of the affable Australian, Nathan Brown, their fortunes couldn’t be more contrasting.
With halfbacks Luke Robinson and Kevin Brown in magnificent form, the Giants provided a constant threat in attack. The two Hodgsons – Brett and David – as well as right winger Leroy Cudjoe, were just as incisive with ball in hand and their forwards laid a great platform. Defensively, Brett Hodgson was a rock, saving them twice in the first half by preventing Saints players from grounding the ball.
“We knew what a dangerous player he is,” lamented the St Helens coach, Mick Potter.
“I thought he was a major player for them today.”
Potter sprang a major surprise by including his champion hookers, Keiron Cuinningham and James Roby, both who had been doubtful with injury. Cunningham showed no ill-effects of the leg injury he had picked up against Wigan nine days earlier, playing well in his two spells on the field, but Roby was somewhat below par as he returned from a broken hand.
Sean Long, however, who was surprisingly named in the initial 19 during the week, missed out with Kyle Eastmond starting at scrum-half.
Giants coach, Nathan Brown, had the luxury of picking from a near full-strength squad, with no recent injuries disrupting his preparation.
The Giants were the first to threaten when Robinson made a wonderful break and fed the supporting Brett Hodgson who sent Jamahl Lolesi away but Saints’ centre Chris Dean saved a try with a wonderful tackle.
Far from being disappointed, the Giants continued to attack and made another break with Cudjoe surging down the right. He drew his opposite number and fed his captain Hodgson, supporting on the inside as ever, who scored ten metres to the right of the posts. But the tryscorer missed the relatively easy kick.
The Giants were well on top with Saints struggling to stop them making significant metres.
They eventually found their way into Giants’ territory thanks to a Darrell Griffin chargedown which gave them consecutive sets. A penalty followed and Francis Meli scored on their 18th consecutive tackle out on the left. It was against the run of play but a team as good as Saints require few invitations to reassert their authority.
Saints continued in the ascendancy but a superb ball-and-all tackle by Cudjoe on Wellens halted another attack.
Roby replaced Cunningham who had put in an excellent 25-minute spell. He broke a tackle immediately and Saints forced a goalline drop-out with an Eastmond kick to the corner.
Leon Pryce then crossed but video referee, Ian Smith, ruled that Brett Hodgson had held him up.
The Giants badly needed a foothold in the game and they got it four minutes before the break.
Brown broke down the left, freed Whatuira who shipped the ball onto the galloping Stephen Wild who scored down the left. Hodgson curled in an impressive conversion ten metres in from touch and, having been under the cosh for at least 20 minutes, the Giants led by six.
Late in the first half, Hodgson was still in the thick of the action; firstly, taking a superb catch to diffuse a steepling bomb but then kicking out on the full from the halfway, handing Saints cheap possession. He then knocked on near his own line.
From the scrum, the electric Eastmond broke away and dummied his was to the line with a scintillating run. But the former New South Wales Origin fullback managed to hold him up.
But, dramatically, there was still time for Lee Gilmour to further employ the video referee, who was called upon for the fourth time in the half. But Smith disallowed the try for a double movement, bringing a tremendous half to a close.
If that was exciting, the second half started in the most sensational fashion. Andrew Dixon, the Saints’ substitute, fumbled the kick off and from the scrum, Brown kicked enterprisingly to the corner on the first tackle. His delivery was perfect and Cudjoe slammed the ball down in front of the delirious travelling Yorkshiremen.
Hodgson pushed his goal disappointingly wide but the Giants led by ten. Would the skipper be punished for his one-third conversion rate so far?
But perhaps they wouldn’t need his kicks as the Giants brought the house down with another try.
Eorl Crabtree broke through a Paul Clough tackle just before he was replaced, bringing to a close a superb spell on the field. Moments later Robinson kicked high to the left-hand corner where David Hodgson challenged for the ball with Gardner. The ball squirmed free to Brown who gathered and touched down. But Hodgson missed another goal.
Would Cunningham’s re-entrance re-awaken the Cup kings? The immediate answer was an emphatic ‘yes’.
Coming out of defence, on the last tackle, and still in their own half, they fired the ball to the left where Gilmour kicked ahead. The ball ricocheted to Wilkin who sent Meli to the posts on an arcing run. Saints were back and Eastmond reduced the arrears further by tagging on the simple conversion.
The gap was back to eight. Was that enough of a cushion for the meanest defence in Super League?
With Cunningham and Eastmond in great form, they attacked again but this time Eastmond’s teasing kick was knocked on in the air by Pryce close to the line.
Saints then received consecutive penalties on the Giants’ line. From the second, Eastmond scampered over but Silverwood hadn’t restarted the game.
Sixteen minutes remained, the Giants led by eight and the tension was close to breaking point.
But it was relieved beautifully by the Giants’ matchwinning score. Brett Hodgson, shaping to kick, dummied and broke through and, calmness personified, he kicked ahead for Wild to score. Ian Smith gave the nod, sending the Giants to Wembley for the first time in 47 years.
There was still time for Meli’s second try late on but nothing was going to silence the celebrating legions of Huddersfield fanatics.
“The end result is very exciting for everyone involved in the club,” said a delighted Brown who has now reached his first final in a decade of first-grade coaching.
“It’s the first time for the club in nearly 50 years.
“Our ability to stop them scoring [was a factor]. Our defence was pretty good against a very good side.
“Brett Hodgson’s obviously a quality player and he came up with the quality play to put the game out of reach. Everyone on the field, in some way, contributed.”
Story of the game
6 Brett Hodgson try, Brett Hodgson missed goal (0/1) 0-4
13 Francis Meli try, Kyle Eastmond missed goal (0/1) 4-4
27 Leon Pryce try disallowed by video ref
37 Stephen Wild try, Brett Hodgson goal (1/2) 10-4
39 Kyle Eastmond try disallowed by video ref
40 Lee Gilmour try disallowed by video ref
41 Leroy Cudjoe try, Brett Hodgson missed goal (1/3) 14-4
51 Kevin Brown try, Brett Hodgson missed goal (1/4) 18-4
55 Francis Meli try, Kyle Eastmond goal (1/2) 18-10
75 Stephen Wild try, Brett Hodgson goal (2/5) 24-10
77 Francis Meli try, Kyle Eastmond missed goal (1/3) 24-14
1 Paul Wellens
2 Ade Gardner
3 Matt Gidley
19 Chris Dean
5 Francis Meli
6 Leon Pryce
18 Kyle Eastmond
10 James Graham
9 Keiron Cunningham
16 Tony Puletua
13 Chris Flannery
12 Jon Wilkin
11 Lee Gilmour
Subs (all used)
17 Paul Clough
14 James Roby
15 Bryn Hargreaves
24 Andrew Dixon
1 Brett Hodgson
21 Leroy Cudjoe
11 Jamahl Lolesi
4 Paul Whatuira
5 David Hodgson
3 Kevin Brown
7 Luke Robinson
16 Keith Mason
20 Scott Moore
10 Darrell Griffin
13 Stephen Wild
6 Liam Fulton
9 David Faiumu
Subs (all used)
24 Shaun Lunt
8 Eorl Crabtree
15 Paul Jackson
18 Danny Kirmond
Rugby Leaguer & League Express Men of the Match
Saints: Keiron Cunningham
Giants: Brett Hodgson
Penalty count: 8-11
GLDO forced: 2-0
Referee: Richard Silverwood
GAMEBREAKER: Only when Stephen Wild scored late on did the Giants know they were at Wembley.
GAMESTAR: Brett Hodgson was superb in defence and came up with many of the Giants’ big plays in attack.
TOP TACKLE: Chris Dean prevented an early Jamahl Lolesi score with a great trysaver.