Heroic Giants rally falls short as Leeds hail Hardaker hat-trick

Huddersfield 28 Leeds 34

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A season which once promised little but disappointment and recrimination could yet end at Old Trafford for Leeds, after Zak Hardaker's first hat-trick for the club put a full stop to a brave Huddersfield's campaign.

A brisk start and another burst of scoring in the second half of this eliminator saw the Rhinos through to the next round of the Super League play-offs, but not with much to spare.

In between, the Giants deserved credit for battling their way back to only one try in arrears. They also staged a stirring rally near the end, but they always looked like a team on borrowed time.

The impression that Huddersfield had shot their bolt for the season seemed to be confirmed inside 10 minutes, in which Leeds ran in 10 points.

Weller Hauraki drew in the Giants' wide defence and slipped the ball to the unmarked Ben Jones-Bishop for the game's first try. Then Brent Webb, steaming on to Chris Clarkson's pass, set up the second – Danny McGuire was in support and might have had the speed to finish, but instead he threw a long, looping pass to send Zak Hardaker in untouched.

The former Featherstone youngster quickly doubled up. Kevin Sinfield hoisted a high kick and Jermain McGillvary – voted Super League's rookie of the year – made a rookie's mistake by allowing it to bounce and end up, inevitably, in Hardaker's arms.

The Giants had hardly figured in attack but just before half-time, when it was already just about too late, they found a gear. Danny Brough made his first telling run and the equally quiet Kevin Brown supplied the final pass for Scott Grix to corss. Despite being played off the park, in turning around 6-16 the Giants were almost back in it.

There was no "almost" about it when, five minutes after the break, Brett Delaney lost the ball and Luke Robinson's crisp pass sent Dale Ferguson through for the Giants' second try. But Leeds took control again when Webb took a return pass from Hardaker for a picture-book try.

This time there seemed no turning back as the 19-year-old centre completed his trio after good work by Danny Buderus and Jamie Jones-Buchanan. A second from the lively Webb seemed to kill off the contest.

David Fa'alogo's consolation effort, followed by Grix's second, hardly hinted at a Giant rally, but when Fa'alogo got over again with five minutes to go anything was possible. Jamie Peacock's fumble had Leeds living on their nerves, but they hung on.

Huddersfield Giants: Grix; McGillvary, Wardle, Cudjoe, Lawrence; Brown, Brough; Mason, Robinson, Griffin, Gilmour, Fa'alogo, Horne. Substitutes Crabtree, Faiumu, Patrick, Ferguson.

Leeds: Webb; Jones-Bishop, Delaney, Hardaker, Hall; Sinfield, McGuire; Leuluai, Buderus, Peacock, Jones-Buchanan, Haurali, Clarkson.

Substitutes: Burrow, Bailey, Lauitiiti, Kirke.

Referee: P Bentham (Warrington).