Hull FC 12 Wigan Warriors 18
Taulima Tautai came to the rescue with time running out at the KC Stadium to preserve Wigan's hopes of finishing top of the league.
With Wigan behind by two points late into their clash with Hull FC, all bets looked off as not only did their League Leaders’ Shield hopes look gone, but so did their hopes of a home semi-final tie in the play-offs.
A contentious try awarded to Sam Powell looked to be all Wigan would manage from a tight second half which came with frustration as Hull had answers to an attack which has had its fair share of criticism this term.
But with three minutes left, Tautai picked the perfect moment to score his first try of the season as he not only rescued Wigan’s hopes of finishing top, but also stretched their unbeaten run at the KC Stadium to eight matches.
With criticism of Wigan’s attack from their 8-6 defeat to Widnes last week providing an undercurrent to the build up to last night’s clash, the small band of traveling supporters braving the near full-length trip of the M62 on a Friday night would have been hoping for a sharp improvement.
And there were one or two flashpoints of exciting stuff from Wigan in the first half, clad in their hi-viz third kit.
George Williams’ try 11 minutes into the piece was vintage. As was the build-up.
With the home side pressing Wigan’s line, Anthony Gelling, in one of those jackpot or bust moves he is known for, struck gold with an intercept straight from the archive of his hat-trick against St Helens last month.
He was covered by the retreating defence, but the breakthrough allowed Williams, sporting a blond rinse and missing an eyebrow as a punishment for being late for training during the week, to craft a try which will probably find itself on the end of season highlights DVD.
But it was off the cuff. Planned moves still fell flat. And ideas looked in short supply, especially later in the first half when Gelling and Josh Charnley opted to try and force their way over the line rather than use the width of the pitch available to them.
Following Wigan’s trouble to find a gear, Hull, having brought back their heavy artillery after resting players for last week’s 31-10 loss to St Helens following their Challenge Cup Final success, marched upfield.
Coach Lee Radford brought back seven players into his squad, with captain Gareth Ellis, half-back Marc Sneyd and Wembley hero Danny Houghton among them.
Matty Smith returned for Wigan after missing last week’s game through injury while Frank-Paul Nuuausala made his first start since arriving in July after Dom Crosby, who missed last week’s loss to Widnes, was named on the bench.
And Sneyd, much like he was in the Black and Whites’ Cup semi-final win over the Warriors, was instrumental in executing his side’s overtaking manoeuvre.
With a quarter of the game gone, Sneyd’s grubber kick was collected by Fetuli Talanoa, and he just about managed to make the grounding before the dead ball line to bring his side level, with the Wigan players walking forward from behind their own line while video referee Phil Bentham was making his decision doing nothing to sway the outcome.
Sneyd, predictably, banged over the conversion despite the difficult angle, and Wigan only had themselves to blame for the next couple of sets’ worth of pressure thanks to the kick-off going out on the full.
After a flat period, Mahe Fonua extended the home side’s lead with Sneyd once again having a hand in the try’s creation. This time, Steve Michaels collected the kick and pulled off a nice offload to send the centre over the line.
Sneyd’s miss left the gap at six points, and Wigan within one score - but their best efforts weren’t enough to find a way through to level.
But the Hull half-back got his chance to make amends for his earlier miss when Nuuausala caught him round the chops with time ticking down to the break - and form 40 metres out he took the two to add more daylight between the sides.
Warriors fans probably feared the worst shortly after the break when Sneyd struck a neat 40/20 minutes after the restart, but despite the Cup winners camping on Wigan’s line, it was the Warriors who scored first and even then it was 26 minutes into the half through Powell.
Before then, a brave tackle on Frank Pritchard was needed by Jake Shorrocks to prevent the game getting away from Wigan and the video referee also chalked off an effort from Kirk Yeaman.
But Wigan fought to stay within touching distance, even if at first it was only with their fingertips.
Sam Tomkins went close to finishing a flamboyant move to score in front of the pocket of Wigan fans in the corner, but the video referee put the barrier down when the replay revealed Charnley’s foot was over the dead ball line when he batted it to his team mate.
Powell’s try provided more than a shred of hope. Referee Ben Thaler sent it to the video ref with an onfield decision of ‘try’ - and the Hull fans were incensed when, despite replays appearing to show the ball was grounded short of the line, the try was given.
Smith’s conversion in front of the posts was a formality, and with a two-point gap and 14 minutes left to play - drama was about to unfold.
Dan Sarginson was bundled into touch with four minutes to go, to the biggest cheer of the night, and it looked lost for Wigan.
But Tuatai struck underneath the posts - and with seconds to go, Smith tagged on a penalty for good measure.
Hull FC: Jamie Shaul; Steve Michaels, Mahe Fonua, Kirk Yeaman, Fetuli Talanoa; Carlos Tuimavave, Marc Sneyd; Scott Taylor, Danny Houghton, Liam Watts, Sika Manu, Mark Minichiello; Gareth Ellis
Subs: Frank Pritchard, Josh Bowden, Chris Green, Dean Hadley
Wigan Warriors: Sam Tomkins; Josh Charnley, Anthony Gelling, Dan Sarginson, Lewis Tierney; George Williams, Matty Smith; Frank-Paul Nuuausala, Sam Powell, Ben Flower, John Bateman, Willie Isa; Liam Farrell
Subs: Dom Crosby, Taulima Tautai, Ryan Sutton, Jake Shorrocks
Tries: Talanoa, Fonua
Goals: Sneyd 2
Tries: Williams, Powell, Tautai
Goals: Smith 3
Star man: George WIlliams