Hoppers 22 Huddersfield 29
In the craziest of finishes, Preston Grasshoppers gifted Huddersfield two tries to squander a nine-point lead and have to settle for two bonus points when, on the balance of play, they should really have been pocketing all five.
Going into the final quarter, they looked comfortable at 17-8 in front and, when the visitors had flanker Lewis Bradley sin-binned following a scuffle, they ought to have put the game to bed.
Instead, it was 14-man Huddersfield who piled on the pressure and scored a try through centre Lewis Workman, converted by Will Milner.
There then followed even greater calamity when replacement prop Dan Madden’s pass on halfway was intercepted and full-back Tom Hodson raced clear for another converted score.
Nevertheless Hoppers appeared to have regained their composure and patiently worked the position for Jordan Dorrington to score an unconverted bonus-point try and tie the scores at 22-22 deep into stoppage time.
All that was required was for Hoppers to run the clock down and claim three points.
But somewhat naively, they opted to try to grab the victory only to see centre Matt Crow spill the ball and present winger Kian Stewart with an uncontested 50-metre race to the line.
Milner’s conversion in the eighth minute of extra time was the last action of an extraordinary match.
Hoppers head coach Paul Arnold left straight after the game – not to avoid awkward questions but to attend the rugby league Challenge Cup final at Old Trafford – so it was left to his assistant Donny Sutherland to explain the disappointing outcome, the third time in a row that Huddersfield have beaten Hoppers in the dying moments.
“We had enough possession in the first half to have finished the game off,” he said.
“But we made some bad decisions and didn’t put the game away in the second half.
“We dominated up front and in terms of territory and possession, but didn’t get the rewards we should have had when we were in their 22.
“There were a lot of positives but we have got to turn territory into points and we will have to talk about how we finish games off.”
Hoppers made a bright start but wasted early chances with poor handling and passing, nor could they capitalise on a period of strong pressure on the Huddersfield line.
Much against the run of play, the visitors took the lead after a pointless first 23 minutes following a searing break by Workman – aided by some half-hearted tackling – which set up Bradley for an unconverted try.
Hoppers hit back well, with Ben Dorrington put clean through for a try which Jake Squirrell converted, and things got even better straight after half-time with the Dorrington brothers combining well to take play almost to the Huddersfield line, from where Crow went over in the corner. Squirrell missed the conversion.
Huddersfield spurned a couple of clear scoring chances before Milner pulled back three points with a penalty.
But Hoppers responded with a typical close-range Matt Lamprey try after the Dorringtons again combined well to force a five-metre scrum. Again the conversion proved too tricky but Hoppers looked well in control going into the last 15 minutes.
All that changed in the space of three minutes with Workman’s and Hodson’s tries, both converted by Milner.
Jordan Dorrington seemed to have salvaged a draw with his late try but it was Stewart, pouncing on Hoppers’ final fatal error, who sealed an unlikely victory when the hosts could – and should – have comfortably closed out the game.