Some nights, sport is about much more than the result on the field. Ultimately, this was Huddersfield Giants’ night in terms of the outcome, but really, everyone who was fortunate enough to be in attendance here must have felt like a winner at some stage given how utterly miserable the last 429 days have been as a rugby league supporter, locked out of the game you love.
To truly understand how important a role rugby league plays in towns like Warrington, you have to be present for nights like these. A working-class town, where supporters work all week just for the release of watching their team at the weekend in the heart of their community. That has been taken away for the last 14 months, and without supporters, the game would have not survived in one piece.
Not that any of the 4,000 Warrington supporters who had the golden ticket here would have been grateful at half-time, though. The Wolves players were greeted by a wall of noise when they arrived for their pre-match warm-up, but less than an hour later, they were booed from the field, trailing 20-0 at half-time having been comprehensively outplayed by the Giants.
At that stage, you would have forgiven any Warrington fan for heading to the pub, but those who stayed certainly got their money’s worth on a night where life felt like it took a significant step back to normality. A flurry of 18 unanswered points after half-time from the Wolves – from nowhere, given how insipid they were earlier – threatened a genuine comeback.
However, the Giants held firm despite Warrington supporters raising the noise, with Kenny Edwards’ try in the final 15 minutes decisive. “When they got all that momentum, the crowd gave them an extra ten per cent,” Huddersfield’s coach, Ian Watson, said after their second win of the season.
“This is what the game lives for. Our players were saying they were nervous beforehand, because no crowds has become normal. Hopefully this is just the start now, though.” Watson and his players did a sterling job of silencing the crowd in the first half, though, as two early tries from Lee Gaskell put the Giants into a deserved 12-0 lead.
Warrington offered little in way of response, and when Jermaine McGillvary added a third try, followed by a penalty from Aidan Sezer on the stroke of half-time, the cheers had turned to boos in the blink of an eye. “That wasn’t a reflection on the way we’d trained,” Warrington’s coach Steve Price said on their first-half performance. “We got what we deserved.”
But they responded superbly after half-time, as tries from Greg Inglis, Daryl Clark and Josh Thewlis reduced Huddersfield’s lead to just two.
Suddenly, the noise returned inside the Halliwell Jones Stadium with real gusto, with Thewlis’s try in particular producing a roar that felt like a genuinely heartwarming moment given the prolonged absence of supporters.
But to Huddersfield’s credit, they held firm despite the Warrington players and supporters raising the intensity. And when Edwards forced his way across the line entering the final quarter, it reasserted the Giants’ advantage. Another penalty from the boot of Sezer shortly after then opened up an eight-point lead with minutes remaining.
And that ultimately deflated Warrington. They threatened another late rally when a penalty from Gareth Widdop reduced the gap to six, but they could not force extra time, as Huddersfield held on for a narrow victory, but one they ultimately deserved.
However, despite falling just short, Warrington’s supporters could still be heard outside making their presence felt post-match. Yes, they were beaten here, but after an arduous 14 months the sport will never forget, it was perhaps fitting that it was the fans – those who have kept this sport alive for 125 years – who were the ones who had the final say.