It was a tense, scrappy and controversial affair, contested by two desperate - and not very good - teams and in the end, Leeds paid the price for a poor start which saw them trail 16-0 at the end of the first quarter.
Rhinos went into it with a patched-up 17 and were reduced by a player inside the opening 15 minutes, when James Bentley was taken off on a stretcher after a collision with Giants full-back Jake Connor under an Aidan Sezer kick. To rub salt into the wound, the Leeds second-rower was penalised for a tackle in the air and Giants scored a dubious try in the resulting set to go 12-0 up.
Giants’ first try summed up Rhinos’ season. They received a set-restart, but Rhyse Martin spilled the ball on the first play. A penalty was conceded on half-way and off that, Sam Halsall went over at the corner from Connor’s long pass and Oliver Russell landed a touchline conversion.
Rhinos fans behind the posts were furious at the award of Giants’ second try to Kevin Naiqama, who seemed to have been tackled before getting up to put the ball down.
Then Ash Handley fumbled a kick by Tui Lolohea who followed up to score, though Esan Marsters should have been penalised for interference on the Leeds winger.
To be fair, Giants could feel aggrieved at having three touchdowns ruled out, twice for Marsters dropping the ball over Leeds’ line and once for a knock-on in the second half when Kevin Naiqama touched down.
Leeds’ points were all scored in the final seven minutes of the opening period. Luke Hooley crossed off a lovely combination between Sezer and Sam Walters and then, after Giants’ Sam Hewitt had been sin-binned for delaying a tap restart, Leeds were in on the final play through Handley, off a rampaging run by Sam Lisone. Martin improved both.
The substitute prop almost crossed off Cameron Smith’s clean break early in the second half, but was tackled and a long delay for an injury to a Giants player allowed thbeir defence to get organised when they had been on the point of cracking.
Twelve minutes into the second half a Connor 40-20 led to Will Pryce landing a penalty goal and, having weathered a storm Giants finished with a Connor drop goal four minutes from time and another Pryce penalty in the final moments.
Leeds did have opportunities in the second half to salvage the game, but - again - weren’t quite good enough, though their effort was hard to fault.
Huddersfield Giants: Connor, Marsters, Bibby, Naiqama, Halsall, Lolohea, Russell, Hill, Milner, Ashworth, Cudjoe, McQueen, Yates. Subs Pryce, Ikahihifo, Greenwood, Hewitt.
Leeds Rhinos: Hooley, Olpherts, Roberts, Newman, Handley, Martin, Sezer, Oledzki, O’Connor, Holroyd, Bentley, Walters, Smith. Subs Donaldson, Lisone, Gannon, Ruan.
Referee: Marcus Griffiths (Widnes). Attendance: 6,621.