Warrington's dream of a Challenge Cup and Super League double lies in tatters, but only after they threatened the greatest of play-off fightbacks. Trailing by 23 points at half-time to a Huddersfield team inspired by a virtuoso performance from Danny Brough, the Wolves got back to within one score before they fell short at the end.
The Yorkshiremen, unrecognisable from the team who were fortunate to beat Crusaders last week, deserved to progress to the last four.
"We left ourselves with way too much to do. Their tactics in the first half hurt us and we didn't deal with them well," said Tony Smith, the Huddersfield coach.
Warrington lost Ben Harrison in the warm-up and then leaked four tries in a one-sided first half. Their troubles began in the first minute, when Richie Mathers knocked on in the tackle. The Giants pounced, Luke Robinson and Kevin Brown working the ball to the right for Stephen Wild to power over. Brett Hodgson, who will replace Mathers as the Wolves' full-back next season, kicked the first of his three first-half goals.
The second try, after 12 minutes, was extraordinary. Brough, from acting-half, ran backwards like an American Football quarterback, away from the defenders, before changing tack to accelerate past them. His pass left Danny Kirmond with something to do, but his strength took him over.
Midway through the half, Warrington went further behind. Brough's pass and Hodgson's little kick fell for Lee Gilmour to touch down. Brough also supplied the long pass from which Brown forced his way over in the corner and he kicked a drop-goal immediately before the break. Warrington went off to jeers from the supporters they have entertained so royally at some stages of the season.
Their fightback started four minutes after the break when Mickey Higham took Michael Monaghan's pass and found a way through. Their continuing frustration showed when Ben Westwood conceded two penalties in a minute – the second saw Hodgson kick a calming two points.
The Wolves were still on the prowl, however, and in the space of five minutes Chris Hicks scored from a Lee Briers kick and Higham scampered over again from dummy-half.
Hodgson kicked another penalty but when Hicks' second try cut the margin to five points the momentum seemed to be with the home side. Huddersfield, however, kept their nerve, with Brough dropping a crossbar-skimming goal and Leroy Cudjoe scoring with a long-range interception from a Mathers pass, as Warrington pressed.
St Helens will today choose their next opponent, Wigan or Huddersfield. They will choose Huddersfield, but will hope that the Giants do not play as they did in the first half last night.
Warrington: Mathers; Hicks, King, Atkins, Riley; Briers, Monaghan; Morley, Clarke, Carvell, L Anderson, Westwood, V Anderson. Substitutes used: Higham, Wood, Solomona, Bridge.
Huddersfield: B Hodgson; Cudjoe, Lawrence, Gilmour, D Hodgson; Brown, Robinson; Griffin, Brough, Mason, Kirmond, Fa'alogo, Wild. Substitutes used: Crabtree, Lunt, Faiumu, Patrick.
Referee: P Bentham (Warrington).Reuse content