It was a cold, wet, windy night as we welcomed Warrington to the John Smiths' first Super League game of the year, and in the end that made all the difference. As we walked into the ground and I broke the news to a Wire-supporting family friend that Tyrone Roberts would not feature for the Wolves, he immediately said "well that's our kicking game gone". I was surprised as I rated Dec Patton and Brown had just had a good spell in the World Cup. But with the conditions as they were, a strong pack and a good kicking game was exactly what was needed to get a win. Simply put, Huddersfield had both, Warrington had neither.
Stefan Ratchford got things underway in the worst way possible for the visitors: with a kick off that rocketed over the dead ball line and gave the Giants the first of many penalties over the night. Our luck didn't last long however, as soon after the Warrington fullback redeemed himself with a chip into the left corner; Lineham slid over the line to collect it and open the scoring for the Wire. On an awful, windy night in West Yorkshire, Goodwin was unable to convert from the touchline, keeping the score at 4-0.
After forcing repeat sets on Warrington's line, the pressure eventually paid off, as Rankin passed out wide to Brough, who then in turn set up Ferguson, who dragged Atkins over the line to get our first points on the board. Brough converted, giving the Giants a lead we'd keep for the rest of the game. Fergie had a big part to play in the next try as well, after shaking off a tackle from Russell, he got an offload out and the ball ended up in the hands of Mamo, who kicked a grubber into the in-goal area. Ratchford and Atkins ended up under eachothers feet trying to deal with it, allowing McIntosh to dive in touch the ball down. A Brough conversion in front of the sticks extended the lead to 12-4.
After a slow start, the Giants lead 12-4 and had been in control for the majority of the first half, with an excellent kicking game being the difference. After my trip to Hull last week, you'd forgive me for not being confident about that sentence. That said, it was very one-sided after Warrington's first try with the opposition barely getting near our line. There was a moment where it looked like they'd even up the try tally, but Lineham knocked on in the in-goal area. Several penalties later, the Giants elected to take 2 points and Brough brought us up to 14-4
On the brink of half-time, a Mamo dummy fooled the Wire defence and the Australian slid over for what looked like it would be our third try, but it was wiped off for an alleged obstruction. With 5 seconds on the clock, Gaskell tackled a Warrington player just past the half-way line, and tried to keep him on the floor while the clock ran out. Understandably, this lead to a Warrington penalty as the hooter went. Goodwin kicked and the score at half time was 14-6.
Broughy got the second half underway and in the very first tackle, a knock of heads saw Dickinson leave the field for a concussion check. Leaving the Giants with 16 men for the final 40.
Unfortunately, there was little to talk about for much of the second half. A series of penalties and errors (not helped by the terrible weather) made for a poor display. Soon after it became clear Warrington were rattled, and that's when things got nasty. It's maybe understandable they resorted to foul play when their captain, Chris Hill, had been leading by example all night. Things finally erupted when he tackled a Giants player from about 5 metres offside and had a little dig in on the ground. Next thing the handbags were out, and he was trying to kick off at Broughy, but other players intervened before anything came of it. Things got heated again, this time between Ferguson and Murdoch Masila, as Fergie took exception to Big Ben living up to his bell-end namesake with an eyegouge on the floor. It wasn't long until the visitors were put on report, and the Giants got the only try of the second half, after Lineham spilled an easy grubber kick from Brough and Turner pounced. Our new number 7 kicked his fourth of the night and clinched a 20-6 Giants win.
We had an improved performance from 1-17 tonight. The only Warrington try came from an open wing, which was a result of them catching us on the back foot after a counter attack.
Our defending was much better beyond that, we limited their opportunities and kept them in their half more often than not. Clough and Hinchcliffe continued to be beasts, getting 39 and 34 tackles respectively with neither player missing a single one. Joining them with a 100% success rate were Ikahihifo with 28 and Ferguson with 27. Smith also had a great shift in defence, getting 32 tackles and missing just one.
It wasn't all a defensive effort, in fact these same players had a great attacking presence too. While Jordan Turner lead the metre charts with 117m, Seb (115m), Fergie (113m), Smith (106m) and Clough (96m) were close behind. Smith lead the carries with 21, followed by Murphy, Seb and Clough who got 16 each. Fergie had 14 carries of his own, and 5 tackle busts. If he had the ball, there was a 1/3 chance he was going to break through the defence.
With our forwards doing everything right, it really allowed our new 1-6-7-9 spine a chance to gel. In the wet and windy conditions, a good kicking game can be the difference, and we saw impressive kicks from Brough, Gaskell, Rankin, Mamo and Leeming. I'm really excited to see where the Brough/Rankin halfback combo goes. Mamo's certainly on the road back to better form, he handled himself under the high ball much better and positioned himself well in attack.
Considering he's a forward by nature, Roberts did really well in his 20 minute stint at centre. I'm a big fan of players who can play in the pack and the backs, so it's reassuring to see we have cover out there should the worst happen.
Most importantly – and I know you may be tired of hearing this, we played fairly consistently. The second half maybe wasn't as slick as the first, but it was a noticeable improvement over last week. We're not at our full potential yet, but we're getting there. And to say we did so with 5 of our starting 17 on the sidelines and a man down for the second half is impressive in anyone's book.
Considering how awful Warrington were, some more points would have been nice, but typically these wet and windy games tend to be low scorers. We can't expect Saints to gift us as many errors and penalties in our next fixture, so we'll need to tighten things up and make our own chances.
There were, of course, a few stupid penalties. We mentioned the Gaskell one on the brink of half time, but the worst one came in the second half. Lineham had picked up a kick in his in goal area and gone down for the tackle 1m off his line. The tackle was clearly complete, yet a few seconds later two of our boys ran in and tried to drag him over the line, giving away a clear penalty. Silly decisions like that need to be seriously cut down on.
There's no getting around it, Wire were dire. Off the back of a good early try, Lineham made some awful basic handling errors on a night he'll want to forget. After losing the bulk of their kicking game with Roberts on the sidelines, Declan Patton was the better of the two halfbacks by being mostly absent. Brown's main contribution was launching a good 2 or 3 passes into Row Z. To counteract this, Ratchford tried to run the show with mixed results. On the one hand he set up the only try, ran with the ball well and made 160m, on the other hand he booted the ball dead right at the start and had twice as many errors as anyone else on the field. That said, I'm reluctant to criticise him as he was one of the only players who was trying to make something happen. The forwards really let the side down. Hill, BMM and Cooper's gameplans were to try and cheat penalties and sneak in high shots and Westwood looked knackered from the moment he stepped on the field. Bryson Goodwin was probably the standout player for the Wire, getting 122m, 2 offloads and getting an average game of 9.38m.
The final word
The aim this week was never to be the best team in the world, it was to be better than we were last week. As any good mountain climber will tell you, it's easy to fall down, but getting up is trickier. We won't be a top 4 club again overnight, all we can do is improve each week and be as competitive as we can. In that sense, it was a successful outing for the Giants. We improved on the main weaknesses from last week (consistency, defence and attitude) without surrendering much elsewhere. Ideally I'd still like to see us getting more points on the board, but for now the only ones that matter are the 2 we got for the win. Saints in 2 weeks will be a huge challenge given their promising start to the season, but if our forwards can put in half the shift they did last night, we'll be all set to challenge the big boys.