Huddersfield 12 St Helens 42: Dominant Long rises to Giant challenge

Scrum-half in sublime form to make history and hand Huddersfield a harsh reality check
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The Independent Online

Huddersfield found out the hard way that it is not enough to match St Helens for much of a big game as they were ripped apart in the second half of their first Challenge Cup final for 44 years.

The Giants gave Saints a scare by taking an early lead, remained the better side for the bulk of the first half, but still finished up run ragged at Twickenham by the best team in the code producing some of their very best rugby.

Sean Long became the first player to win the Lance Todd Trophy for a third time with a consummate display at scrum-half, but there were equal contributions from lesser known players like Jon Wilkin and several of their carefully selected substitutes It would have taken something very special to compete with them and Huddersfield could not sustain that level for long enough.

Unfancied Huddersfield had the major boost of being led out by their regular captain, Chris Thorman, after he had been in doubt until Friday with a hamstring injury. With or without the inventive Geordie, it was possible to get ridiculous odds of 10-1 against a Giants' victory. Perhaps the best indication of Saints' enviable strength in depth was that they were able to leave two international forwards in Nick Fozzard and Vinnie Anderson out of their squad completely. In fact, out of their starting line-up, only Jason Hooper does not have a Test cap.

For all that, it was the underdogs who applied all the early pressure, getting back possession when Thorman's kick-off rebounded off Leon Pryce and monopolising it for the next five minutes.

Tigerish tackling forced two drop-outs and, even when play finally went into the Giants' half, Wilkin's high tackle surrendered the initiative.

Saints were quickly punished. Brad Drew burst out of dummy half, swept past Jason Cayless and fed Michael De Vere, who sent Martin Aspinwall over. De Vere kicked the goal from the touchline and the Giants had the start they needed.

They continued to dictate, with the accurate long kicking of Thorman and Drew supported by the enthusiastic chasing of their team-mates. Despite that, Saints were level after 20 minutes.

Again a penalty was crucial, this one conceded for offside by the markers. Saints attacked the line for the first time and Willie Talau got in front of De Vere to touch down from Paul Sculthorpe's measured low kick.

In a high quality first half, both sides could have scored before the half-hour mark. Wayne McDonald broke through for the Giants and found Robbie Paul on his shoulder. But Paul did not have the pace to go all the way.

Then Jamie Lyon and Ade Gardner opened up Huddersfield on the right touchline, only for Paul Reilly's textbook cover tackle to take the winger into touch. There was no reprieve five minutes before half-time, however, when Saints took the same route again. Lee Gilmour got the ball to Lyon who slipped a wonderful inside pass to Gardner, in turn supported by Long. A second Lyon goal and the favourites, rather against the balance of play, were six points ahead at the break.

But that, of course, is the peril of playing against a team of Saints' talent. They do not have to dominate to hurt you.

The Giants were twice reminded of that fact in the first 10 minutes of the second half. Maurie Faíasavalu justified his selection with a powerhouse break and although James Roby was stopped by Chris Nero's tackle a quick play-the-ball allowed Wilkin to go over.

Wilkin showed the other side of his game by flattening Donlan for a second time, before figuring again in the build-up to the try scored by Faíasavalu from Roby's clever kick. The Giants had played their hearts out and were simply losing touch with Saints.

Long was the next to torment them, skipping away from Paul Jackson and putting a kick into the corner for Lyon to score a try to go with his seven goals.

Huddersfield were vulnerable to all Saints' party tricks by now, not least Keiron Cunningham's deadly running from acting half. When he took them apart in the 66th minute, it was predictable that it should be the hyperactive Wilkin in support for his second try.

To their credit, the Giants hit back with a try from that cup final specialist, Paul, chasing Drew's kick. It was a necessary reminder of how good they had been in this game before Saints steamrollered them.

Long's kick, Reilly's air-swing and Cayless' dive brought a seventh Saints try. This is what happens when you rattle their cage.

St Helens: Wellens; Gardner, Lyon, Talau, Meli; Pryce, Long; Anderson, Cunningham, Cayless, Wilkin, Sculthorpe, Hooper. Substitutes used: Roby, Graham, Gilmour, Faíasvalu.

Huddersfield: Reilly; Aspinwall, Nero, De Vere, Donlan; Thorman, Paul; Jackson, Drew, Gannon, Crabtree, Raleigh, Wild. Substitutes used: Snitch, Jones, Smith, McDonald.

Referee: Richard Silverwood (Mirfield).

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