Oliver Gildart ensured Wigan ended an eventful, historic and turbulent week feeling on top of the world with a late winning try.
This late switch to Widnes, confirmed less than nine hours before kick-off, cost the Warriors a “significant” sum and the controversy will rumble on - RFL officials have confirmed they are investigating their handling of the saga.
It was an embarrassing end to a week which started with them beating Australian premiers Cronulla Sharks, but the travelling Wigan fans - and the turnout was impressively strong - were treated to a thrilling encounter featuring a four-try comeback when Widnes appeared in control.
Trailing 26-12, Joe Burgess sparked a revival with his first of two tries. Lewis Tierney’s effort sandwiched that double, cutting Widnes’ lead to two points, before Gildart struck with the decisive try with five minutes to go.
It was a pulsating end to a match which seemed to have slipped from their grasp early in the second-half.
The game had started open and fast, with Wigan forced to defend back-to-back sets on their line before testing their hosts. Sean O’Loughlin fed Thomas Leuluai, and he had the strength to power over for a try - his first for the club in five years. Morgan Escare converted, making it 6-0 after 13 minutes.
Widnes repelled some half-chances, before sweeping down field for Lloyd White to punish a napping defence. Rhys Hanbury tagged on the extras. And in the 27th minute, emergency halfback Danny Craven sliced through a jagged defence from close range to make it 12-6 - Liam Farrell was spoken to by referee James Child for a skirmish in backplay.
Wigan needed something special to break out of their own half, and Escare provided it. He chased his own midfield kick, regathered and then launched a looping pass for Oliver Gildart to weave through. Escare locked the score.
Shorrocks, who was making his first appearance of the year, hobbled off the pitch with a knee injury.
Widnes reasserted their territorial dominance, even if there was a bit of fortune to their third try, as White’s stabbed kick ricocheted off the upright and Tom Armstrong was on hand to collect. Hanbury’s goal opened up an 18-12 lead.
Widnes pressed home their advantage through ex-Warrior Stefan Marsh. Wigan just couldn’t get out of their half, and frequently found themselves on the wrong end of Child’s penalty decisions. Two of those presented Hanbury with a chance to open up a 26-12 advantage by the 55th minute.
But slowly, the visitors cleaned up their act and once they worked their way down field, Burgess squeezed over in the corner for his fifth try in three matches. Escare was off-target, keeping a 10-point margin between the sides. But the try gave them a lifeline, which they clutched to post two further tries in dramatic style.
First, Tierney went over on the right edge and then more sterling work on the left sent Burgess clear for his second. That try cut the margin to just two points. And with five minutes to go, Burgess broke to send Gildart over for his second, his team’s winner - and ensure a turbulent two-days, and an eventful week, ended on a high.
Widnes: Hanbury; Thompson, Armstrong, Runciman, Marsh; Bridge, Craven; Dudson, White, Buchanan, Whitley, Houston, Leuluai. Subs: Heremaia, Cahill, Olbison, Burke.
Wigan: Escare; Tierney, Gelling, Gildart, Burgess; Williams, Leuluai; Nuuausala, Powell, Flower, Isa, Farrell, O’Loughlin. Subs: Tomkins, Clubb, Tautai, Shorrocks.
Referee: James Child
Starman: Oliver Gildart