It was meant to be the perfect sporting weekend for the town of Huddersfield. With their football and rugby league teams both having huge dates in London finals there was the chance to leave a lasting impression that could kick-start both clubs to bigger and better things.
But on both Saturday and Sunday, the natives of West Yorkshire trudged away from stadiums in the capital feeling distraught and angry as their teams missed out on major honours by the most slender and contentious of margins.
Huddersfield Giants, chasing their first major trophy in 60 years, led 14-12 against the mighty Wigan Warriors with only four minutes left on the clock in the Betfred Challenge Cup final. Twenty-four hours later Huddersfield Town had Nottingham Forest on the rack as they searched for a second-half equaliser in football’s Championship play-off final.
Yet Liam Marshall’s late Wigan try would deny the Giants following two separate incidents which could have seen the Warriors’ Morgan Smithies sent to the sin bin at least, and it was the same story on Sunday as the Terriers fell short amid claims that they should have had two clear penalties.
So near and yet so far.
The Giants were 9/4 outsiders to win the Betfred Challenge Cup at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, but tries from Ricky Leutele, Chris McQueen and Jermaine McGillvary had put them in pole position going into the final quarter. That was despite two incidents early in the second half which had seen Wigan back-rower Smithies escape censure for dangerous tackles.
First, he threw a swinging arm at Joe Greenwood which left the Huddersfield forward prone on the ground, with referee James Child awarding the Giants a penalty but opting for no further action. Then, moments before McGillvary put the underdogs 14-12 ahead, Smithies caught Leutele right across the face with another swinging challenge which left Giants coach Ian Watson perplexed and led to the Wigan man himself admitting his challenge “a bit dumb”.
“It wasn’t intentional,” Smithies told reporters. “It was just a bit dumb, it was a dumb play. I’ll learn my lesson and won’t be doing that again.”
That was no consolation to Watson, who believed Smithies should at least have seen yellow for the challenge on Leutele. “I was expecting more if I’m honest, but he didn’t give it. We’ll have to see what the match review panel say, I thought it was a deciding moment to be fair.”
With no card shown, Wigan rallied and from Harry Smith’s grubber Marshall pounced to win the cup for the Warriors, leaving Huddersfield half way through a weekend from hell, as it turned out.
Because the following day at Wembley, the town’s football side were edged out 1-0 by Forest in the encounter billed the “£170m game”, condemning them to another season in the second tier.
Carlos Corberan’s side fell behind to a Levi Colwill own goal shortly before half-time beneath the Wembley Arch, but they twice thought they had found a way back into the game.
First, Jack Colback appeared to have tripped Town’s Harry Toffolo in the area but referee Jon Moss waved away appeals, and then with just over seven minutes remaining Lewis O’Brien and Max Lowe came together in an incident which could well have seen a penalty awarded but again Moss was uninterested.
“Talking with the players, they were thinking that if they didn’t suffer a foul they would have finished the action because both had a clear advantage to finish the attacks. But they are decisions that I cannot take, of course,” Town boss Corberan told reporters afterwards.
“We have the VAR and we have the referee, and you have to accept what happens on the pitch. At the end the referee considered that they weren’t fouls and we can only accept the decisions.”
On both days, Huddersfield fans were left feeling short-changed. Their teams had put up battling efforts in back-to-back finals, but ultimately they came away with nothing. It could have been the greatest weekend in Huddersfield’s sporting history, but instead was the ultimate tale of what might have been.