Huddersfield Giants 17 Saints 16

Action from Huddersfield v Saints
Action from Huddersfield v Saints

In the immediate aftermath of this potentially title-damaging defeat at Huddersfield on Friday night, Alex Walmsley must have felt like a father-to-be pacing up and down the maternity ward of his local hospital hopefully awaiting a happier event just around the corner.

The prop forward was forced to spend 24 hours agonising over whether his 27th minute red card for an illegal high challenge on Giants’ playmaker Luke Robinson would come back to haunt him, leaving Saints minus the League Leaders’ Shield.

Needing only to avoid defeat to guarantee top spot at the end of the regular season for the first time since 2008, they looked on course to achieve their goal when two rapier-like thrusts led to them establishing a 10-0 lead after 25 minutes of a tough and aggressive encounter.

But when referee Richard Silverwood sent Walmsley for an early bath a few minutes later the tide began to turn and while Saints produced a tremendous backs-to-the-wall fight with 12 men a cruel late drop goal sealed their fate.

It left the door wide open for Castleford Tigers to cement pole position with victory against the Catalan Dragons on Saturday but a 26-6 setback suggested that they wilted under the pressure - and the red-hot conditions in the south of France - much to the delight of Walmsley, his team-mates and Saints’ fans world-wide.

And by a twist of fate St Helens and Cas now meet at Langtree Park on Friday night in a qualifying play-off - the winners progressing to the third week of the competition while the losers will get a second bite of the cherry.

Saints will certainly want to progress at the first time of asking against a Tigers’ outfit they’ve already beaten twice this year and will be boosted by how close they came to overcoming Huddersfield after playing 53 minutes a player light.

It had started so brightly for Nathan Brown’s boys when club leading tryscorer Tommy Makinson crashed over in 22nd minute after a superb build up involving the outstanding James Roby, Jordan Turner, Willie Manu and Mark Percival.

Roby then started and finished a vintage move to notch Saints’ second try just three minutes later and Percival’s conversion made it 10-0.

The League Leader’s Shield looked to be heading for the Langtree Park trophy cabinet at that stage but Walmsley’s sending off signalled the start of the Giants’ revival and a few minutes before the break they cut their arrears to four points.

Quick-thinking Jake Connor got a touch to his own grubber kick and then added the extras before claiming his second goal less than two minutes into the second half after Shaun Lunt had ghosted in, giving the hosts a 12-10 advantage.

They increased their lead to 16-10 when Saints skipper Paul Wellens failed to hold on to a far from accurate Mark Flanagan pass, allowing Leroy Cudjoe to pick up the loose ball and score at a canter.

Saints might have wilted at this stage but an incisive break by Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook down the middle paved the way for Lance Hohaia to jink his way over and Percival brought the scores level with his second goal.

Less than 15 minute remained and amid growing tension, Cudjoe coolly slotted the ball between the posts for a one-pointer to give the Giants a precarious 17-16 lead but even then Hohaia - a drop goal hero at Leeds a fortnight earlier - found himself in a similar position to level the scores, only for his effort to drift wide. Turner also had a comparable opening but his effort failed, too.

Teams - Huddersfield Giants: Murphy; McGillvary, Cudjoe, Wardle, Broughton; Connor, Robinson; Kaufusi, Lunt, Johnson, Ferres, Patrick, Lawrence. Subs: Kopczak, Bailey, Faiumu, Ta’ai (all used).

Saints: Wellens; Makinson, Percival, Jones, Dawson; Hohaia, Wheeler; Amor, Roby, Masoe, Manu, Laffranchi, Turner. Sub: Soliola, Walmsley, Flanagan, McCarthy-Scarsbrook (all used).

Referee: Richard Silverwood.

Attendance: 7,244.