Australian Adam Quinlan scored a hat-trick of tries on a dream Super League debut as St Helens secured a precious 35-34 win over form team Huddersfield to move to within a point of leaders Leeds with two games left before the Super 8s.
Saints were never behind, but Huddersfield hit back five times to level the scores and half-backs Danny Brough and Jamie Ellis both failed with goal kicks in the last 10 minutes that would have put them in front before scrum-half Luke Walsh finally settled it with a last-gasp drop goal.
Defences were all at sea throughout the 12-try thriller, but St Helens coach Keiron Cunningham will be delighted to get the win, especially after describing last week’s 46-18 defeat at Leeds as a “debacle”.
Quinlan became the seventh St Helens player to take on the full-back role in 2015, just four days after arriving from Australia, and he could hardly have made a more memorable start to his Super League career.
He was tested out early with a couple of huge bombs from Brough, but came through with flying colours and pulled off a crucial tackle on his opposite number Scott Grix before demonstrating his penchant for scoring tries.
He was on the spot on 15 minutes to collect a lucky ricochet after James Roby’s kick came back off Grix and was also in the right place to touch down Andre Savelio’s sloppy offload on the half-hour, although Saints’ determination to keep the ball alive deserved some reward.
Quinlan then demonstrated his alertness to support a break by Roby to complete his hat-trick four minutes before the break.
Walsh kicked all three conversions, but there was never more than six points between the teams in the first half as Huddersfield attacked with venom.
The Giants, in fact, could have been 18-0 up before Quinlan’s first score but for some careless finishing.
Second rowers Jack Hughes and Joe Wardle both broke through the Saints first line of defence with alarming ease, only to see their runs come to nothing, and winger Jermaine McGillvary had an early try disallowed by video referee Richard Silverwood for putting a foot in touch.
However, Silverwood over-ruled match referee Ben Thaler’s decision to disallow a try from Hughes, who stretched out of a two-man tackle to plant the ball on the line, and McGillvary finally got his reward when he collected Grix’s kick to touch down at the corner.
Trailing 18-12 at the break, the visitors hit back to level the scores for a third time within five minutes of the re-start when Hughes’ offload created the space for centre Leroy Cudjoe to cross out wide, although not too far out for Ellis to kick his third conversion.
The arrival of Quinlan enabled Mark Percival to revert to his customary centre spot and he showed his danger by weaving his way through the Giants defence for his side’s fourth try, but still Huddersfield hit back.
Prop Craig Kopczak and replacement hooker Kyle Wood were both held up over the line, but the pressure told when Grix’s long pass got McGillvary over for his second try.
That made it 24-24, but the champions looked to have established a grip on the game at last when Roby’s short ball got second rower Joe Greenwood lunging for the line and five minutes later Percival juggled with Walsh’s pass before scoring his second try.
Walsh was off target for the first time, but Saints were two scores in front for the first time at 34-24.
However, there was still time for a couple more twists, with Eorl Crabtree taking a pass from fellow front rower Craig Huby to crash over and centre Aaron Murphy forcing his way over out wide for Huddersfield’s sixth try on 71 minutes.
Ellis had the chance to put the Giants in front for the first time but he was wide with his sixth conversion attempt and Brough, the team’s normal marksman, then failed with an ambitious penalty attempt from halfway after Percival’s re-start went out on the full.
It was left to Walsh to finally determine the outcome with a snap drop goal two minutes from the end of a pulsating encounter.