Widnes Vikings 24 Wigan Warriors 32
Warriors' habit of starting games 50 minutes late resurfaced as they battled back from 14-points down at Widnes to win 32-24.
A frantic three-try burst in six second half minutes saw Wigan recover from 18-4 down to lead 20-18 - but it wasn’t until Taulima Tautai barged over in the last minute a third comeback in four games was certain.
Sam Tomkins (foot), Ben Flower (Achilles) and Liam Farrell (rolled ankle) dropped out of the squad to either protect – or prevent aggravating previous – injuries on Widnes’ artificial pitch.
And that allowed Gabe Hamlin and Josh Ganson to take their places on the bench, with Romain Navarrete getting a chance to impress Shaun Wane by starting in the front row.
Warriors set-up camp on the Widnes line in the opening moments but took until the 11th minute to get over through Oliver Gildart.
From close range the centre didn’t have much to do after taking George Williams’ pass, and he didn’t need Joe Burgess on his outside as he eased through the gap.
Morgan Escare missed with the touchline conversion attempt but there didn’t seem to be much for Warriors fans to worry about until the Vikings started to gain the upper hand.
With Wigan attacks failing to stick the home side gradually found themselves spending more time in the Warriors’ half, and loose forward Tom Olbison responded with a try after 17 minutes, with Tom Gilmore’s goal putting his side in front.
Wigan did have their chances to put themselves back in front - with Willie Isa providing the most excitement by scooping up a kick from Gilmore to hurtle downfield. Lacking the pace to go all the way, and the support to hand the ball on cleanly, he fumbled for Ed Chamberlain to counter.
That threat was doused later in the set when former Warrior Greg Burke overestimated his ability to stretch a hand over the line and lost the ball.
With 10 minutes to the break Wane’s men had another handful of opportunities to re-take the lead, sparked by a penalty for Lloyd White taking his time getting out of the tackle.
From the penalty, Thomas Leuluai spied space earmarked for Tautai to go over from close range, but Matt Whitley managed to spoil the move by getting to the ball first.
But Wigan couldn’t make use of the set from the resulting scrum, or another penalty for Rhys Hanbury holding down on Joel Tomkins, from which Sam Powell opted to try a kick across to Liam Marshall on the first tackle.
That was the last chance of the first half before a mini-collapse saw Wigan 14 points down by the break and needing a third second-half comeback from four games.
Five minutes before the break Jay Chapelhow put Widnes further in front when he made the most of a slow Wigan reaction to a Danny Craven kick to score, and things quickly got worse as the Warriors found themselves down to 12 men two minutes later thanks to a sin-bin.
Leuluai was sent for his half-time break early by referee Ben Thaler for holding back Craven while chasing a kick from Gilmore which was on its way to bobbling over the tryline.
But the interference didn’t end up keeping the score the same as Widnes used the penalty to send Ryan Ince over in the corner. Gilmore’s goal made it 18-4 at the break.
Wigan admittedly started the second half brighter, though when a kick for Gildart from Williams produced nothing, few would have expected the manner in which they were about to spark into life.
Three tries in six minutes, each down Wigan’s potent left edge, flipped the game on its head, leaving fans scratching their heads as to how they were in front after start riddled with misfires.
A simple passing move along the left edge sent Burgess over 10 minutes into the second half, and Escare was next in on the act three minutes later.
The Frenchman broke form 40 metres out and spun and wove his way through the defence as if playing a game of tick and pass - though having missed the first two conversion attempts handed duties over to Powell - who booted Wigan to within four points.
Then former Viking Isa got his reward for a solid shift by going over after Wigan were piggy-backed upfield by a penalty for White mucking about in the ruck, with Powell’s extras putting the Warriors in front for the first time since Gildart’s opener.
But fans thinking this usual order of a Wigan comeback special was complete were mistaken, at least for a bit.
Dan Sarginson was pulled up by Thaler for a high shot on Hanbury, and at a kickable angle and distance the Vikings had more faith in Gilmore’s ability to lock the scores than their chances of going in front if they ran it.
This dialled-up tension in the atmosphere nicely in a game which had needed it other than a few sparks of inspiration, but Wigan managed to hold their nerve and take the lead again when Sutton crashed over seven minutes before time.
But there was still time for Widnes to shorten the fingernails of the Warriors fans sat behind the line they were attacking. Ince crashed over for his second of the night with five to go, after Burgess had been helped from the field with an injury to his left leg.
With a chance to lock the scores again, Gilmore missed with the conversion attempt and Wigan had the final word when Tautai crashed over for his side to take the points, and keep the pressure on leaders St Helens at the top of the table.
Widnes: Rhys Hanbury; Ryan Ince, Jimmy Keinhorst, Ed Chamberlain, Patrick Ah Van; Tom Gilmore, Danny Craven; Alex Gerrard, Lloyd White, Greg Burke, Matt Whitley, Sam Wilde; Tom Olbison
Subs: Macgraff Leuluai, Hep Cahill, Jay Chapelhow, Jordan Johnstone
Wigan: Morgan Escare; Liam Marshall, Dan Sarginson, Oliver Gildart, Joe Burgess; George Williams, Sam Powell; Tony Clubb, Tommy Leuluai, Romain Navarrete, Ryan Sutton, Willie Isa; Sean O’Loughlin
Subs: Josh Ganson, Joel Tomkins, Gabe Hamlin, Taulima Tautai
Referee: Ben Thaler
Starman: George Williams