A try four minutes from the end by winger Liam Marshall broke Huddersfield Giants hearts and helped Wigan Warriors clinch a record-extending 20th Betfred Challenge Cup triumph to deliver a major trophy in Matt Peet’s first season as head coach.
The Giants were on course to end their 69-year wait for a cup victory when they led 14-12 throughout the final quarter, only for Marshall to strike a cruel blow and condemn them to a 16-14 defeat in front of a 51, 628 crowd at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.
Huddersfield dominated the first half but could only manage a four-point lead at the break and in the end were left to reflect on an off day with the boot by full-back Tui Lolohea, who managed to kick just one of five attempts at goal.
It meant a second cup-final defeat in three years for Giants coach Ian Watson and captain Luke Yates following their one-point loss with Salford Red Devils in 2020.
They had the encouragement of an early penalty goal from Lolohea and were on top for long periods of the first half.
Scrum-half Oliver Russell, showing no sign of the hamstring injury that threatened to wreck his final hopes, kept Wigan pinned back inside their own half with his raking kicks and the Giants’ aggressive defence kept their opponents in an arm lock.
Wigan speed merchant Bevan French posed a big threat on the right wing, but he was largely confined to defensive duties and he denied Innes Senior in a one-on-one while Russell was close to touching down Lolohea’s grubber kick.
A knock-on by scrum-half Harry Smith gave Huddersfield a perfect attacking position and in-form centre Ricky Leutele made the most of it, forcing his way over from Lolohea’s pass on 16 minutes.
Lolohea’s conversion attempt bounced back off an upright and those inches ultimately proved to be the difference between the two evenly-matched sides.
Wigan rarely threatened the Huddersfield line in the first half, but they forced a goal-line drop-out on 25 minutes and Smith got on the end of a brilliant offload from the tackle by loose forward Morgan Smithies to scoot over for a try, which he goaled to level the scores.
The Giants lost prop Chris Hill with a knee injury midway through the first half, but they had plenty of reinforcements on a big bench and that enabled them to stay on the front foot.
It was from another Wigan handling error deep inside their own half – this time by stand-off Cade Cust – that Watson’s men regained the lead seven minutes before the break, with second rower Chris McQueen going through a gap wide out for his ninth try of the season after Lolohea had run the ball on the last tackle.
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Lolohea again failed with the conversion attempt to leave his side with a tenuous four-point lead at the break and it was wiped out within three minutes of the restart.
The Giants had kept full-back Jai Field and French on a tight rein throughout the first half, but the latter got around Senior and his Australian team-mate was in support to finish off the long-range move with a glorious try.
Smith’s second goal nudged Wigan in front for the first time and captain Thomas Leuluai, introduced as hooker six minutes before the break, went close to extending it with a dart from dummy half.
Lolohea was wide with a 40-metre penalty, but Huddersfield went back in front on 57 minutes when England winger Jermaine McGillvary took a one-handed pass from centre Leroy Cudjoe to produce a clinical finish at the corner.
Once again Lolohea was wide with the goal kick and that meant a tense finale, with Wigan throwing caution to the wind, and the pivotal moment came four minutes from the end when Smith kicked into space for Marshall to score the winning try.
McQueen was voted winner of the prestigious Lance Todd Trophy as man of the match, but it was little consolation as Huddersfield succumbed to a third final defeat in 17 years.