WIGAN blew the chance to open up a five-point gap at the top of the ladder as Bradford pulled off a shock upset at the DW Stadium.
The Bulls shrugged off their financial worries to produce a performance chock full of heart and aggression, with several of their players putting themselves firmly in the shop-window for prospective new employers.
They rattled Wigan with a high-tempo display, inflicting the killer blows with tries from Elliot Whitehead and Karl Pryce in the final few minutes – while the home side were down to 12-men – to swing a 22-18 deficit into a 30-22 advantage.
Many of the fans vented their anger at erratic referee Tim Roby.
But Shaun Wane was left cursing a drastically below-par outing from his own team, as their imperious 13-game winning streak came to an abrupt halt.
They failed to build pressure at crucial times, several gilt-edged chances were squandered, and their discipline went Awol at times – most noticeably when Mike McIlorum was red-carded in the 55th minute for punching Elima.
At least Warrington’s surprise loss to Salford ensured the Cherry and Whites maintained their three-point margin at the top of the Super League ladder – but that was one of the few positives from an otherwise disappointing evening.
Sam Tomkins withdrew pre-game with a dead-leg, giving a first chance to rookie full-back Jack Murphy – the sixth academy player to debut under Wane this year.
In addition, the coach promoted Welsh prospect Rhodri Lloyd to the starting line-up and Ben Flower returned to action, as expected, from a three-month lay-off.
With the likes of Thomas Leuluai, Harrison Hansen, Jeff Lima, Pat Richards, Paul Prescott and Tomkins on the sidelines, they were certainly lacking plenty of fire-power.
Yet despite Wigan’s depleted line-up, they were the heavy favourites with the bookmakers.
And when Anthony Gelling swept over in the fourth-minute – following quick-fire passes from Gareth Hock and the vintage George Carmont – everything seemed to be going to plan.
But Bradford re-gathered well and went toe-to-toe with their esteemed hosts for the rest of a seesawing opening half, which incredibly saw the Bulls lead 18-16 at the break.
Wigan’s performance lacked the usual zip and their handling was poor – and blaming those on the absence of Tomkins would be doing an injustice to debutant Murphy, who was accomplished in the No.1 role.
And he propelled his hometown club into a 10-0 lead with a truly memorable try, in which he carved through the line, pinballing out of two attempted tackles and turning on the after-burners to soar over for a try which Josh Charnley converted.
Sandwiching that scorching effort were missed-chances which drew loud gasps from the bumper crowd – both created by all-action Farrell, who created an opening for Darrell Goulding which was snuffed out, and then laid a chance for Gelling on a platter only for the Kiwi to fluff his lines.
Wigan’s handling showed few signs of improving, and when Epa Lauaki was penalised for a play-the-ball infringement, it handed the Bulls a lifeline which they gratefully snatched through ex-Warrior Pryce shortly after he’d returned to the pitch following a sin-bin for holding down. Luke Gale’s goal narrowed the score to 10-6.
Wigan had more chances, most notable down the left channel, where Finch’s measured kick was chased by Gelling, who palmed the ball inside to Hock – only for Roby to rule the ball had floated forward.
And minutes later, another promising attack broke down when Jack Hughes dropped the ball – from which Keith Lulia stormed down the wing, sending Brett Kearney over.
Flower – playing his first match since March – crashed over for his first try for Wigan, and Charnley’s conversion edged Wigan four points clear.
But on the stroke of half-time, a frantic bid to keep the ball alive – married with an apparent missed knock-on by Roby – ended when Lulia slid over, Gale’s conversion edging the Bulls two points ahead.
A nervous and flat period from the restart was brought to life when Charnley chased Finch’s raking kick, forcing a drop-out.
And from that dominant position, Dom Crosby squeezed through a gap for his first Super League try. Charnley tagged on the extras to make it 22-18.
But just when Wane would have wanted his team to turn the screw, they were reduced to 12-men when McIlorum was sent off in the 55th minute.
The hooker appeared to react to a tackle by lashing out, landing a solid punch on Elima, leaving Roby little option but to brandish a red card.
And the simmering tensions threatened to spill over at several points during the final quarter as the Bulls sniffed a shock upset and found an extra gear.
With Wigan appearing rattled on their own line, Whitehead wrong-footed Carmont to cross – and Gale’s conversion put the visitors in the driving seat – before Pryce grabbed his second by snatching the ball from Charnley grasp, after he had defused a crossfield kick.
Murphy’s try-saving tackle on Jarrod Sammut stemmed the bleeding but Wigan couldn’t muster a late , great escape.