Wigan 10 Castleford 27
Morgan Escare scored two tries but Wigan were second-best for most of this game as early pace-setters Castleford continued their whirlwind start to the campaign.
Having won their opening five matches of the season, Wigan now head into the Good Friday derby without a win in four games.
Their draw against Huddersfield and losses to Hull FC and Leeds went down to the wire. But once Castleford had established their lead, they had enough energy and defensive resolve to hang on.
A lot has been said of Tigers’ flamboyance and fire-power this year, but with Luke Gale marshalling them well - and immaculate with the boot - they also had the cool composure to keep Wigan at jabbing distance away.
Wigan were down on numbers with their entire starting backs division missing but, in addition, too many of their bright lights had off-days.
One of those - Escare - scored all their points, with a try in each half and a 73rd minute conversion to reel in Castleford’s lead to 10-points and offer them brief late hope, which was quickly extinguished.
There was no shortage of effort from Wigan but, when they went to pull the trigger, the attack just wasn’t sharp enough. George Williams’ short kicks were dealt with, too many passes went into touch, too often, and at stages they looked panicky.
At the other end, two of Castleford’s three tries were aided and abetted by a frail defence - the Yorkshire side are good enough in attack without being helped out.
Taulima Tautai was involved in two of those defensive slips, but did enough with the ball to probably finish in credit.
It was one of those games.
Liam Farrell recovered from a leg injury to replace Oliver Gildart - victim of a crusher tackle last week - in the Wigan starting side. But Wane was still without a raft of front-line stars including Sean O’Loughlin, John Bateman, Micky McIlorum and his five ‘starting’ backs.
Castleford, by contrast, had the luxury of putting former Man of Steel Rangi Chase on the bench though they were forced into a late change with Joel Monaghan drafted in as a late replacement for captain Michael Shenton.
The Tigers have thrilled fans this year, and headed into the match on top of the ladder and having scored nearly 100 points more than their closest rivals.
Wane had made the point in the build-up that many of those sides had allowed Castleford to play, and challenged his defence to harass and disrupt their rhythm.
For the first quarter, they succeeded, forcing the Yorkshire outfit into making mistakes and limiting their chances. Young wingers Liam Marshall and Tom Davies defused the kicks which were fired their way - through the air and across the ground.
Wigan had their own attacking chances, but their short-kicks failed to pierce the Tigers line and Ryan Sutton and Sam Powell were both held up over the line.
The game swung in Castleford’s favour when they chalked up two tries in as many minutes.
Awarded a 24th minute penalty, they decided against taking the easy two points - and the decision paid off, when Ben Roberts fed Jake Webster and he slipped beyond his marker for opening try.
If that was a straight forward play - free of any of Cas’ trademark flash and flamboyance - their second, from the next set, took more scoring. Zak Hardaker took an offload and blazed through the middle - Tautai and Farrell slow to react - and found Gale in support. He converted and, before Wigan had the ball back, nudged them 14 points ahead with a penalty.
Warriors failed to score in their last opening half on this ground, against Hull FC, but went one better once they managed to get their hands on the ball.
George Williams, operating at hooker after Sam Powell was forced off, rocketed a long pass to Thomas Leuluai, who fed Morgan Escare and the French full-back found a gap in the Tigers defence to exploit. His conversion attempt was off target.
Powell returned to the pitch for the start of the second-half but within minutes, they went further behind, Escare and Tautai flapping at Jesse Sene-Lefao, who shrugged through far too easily for a try which Gale converted to make it 20-4.
Wigan improved. Tautai’s driving runs put them on the front-foot and with the ball swung from side to side, they threatened the Cas’ line, but their best chanced ended with a Liam Forsyth slipped-pass to Davies going to ground.
Their persistence paid off in the 73rd minute, Davies breaking down the right touchline and having the composure to find the supporting Escare on his inside. The French full-back hit the conversion.
Wigan fans have seen some remarkable comebacks, even this season, and they turned up the volume as they chased the greatest of escapes. But in an attack on the Tigers line, Joel Tomkins’ pass aimed for Davies was picked off by Greg Eden, who raced away to seal the win. Gale crowned an assured display with the conversion and a late, crowning drop-goal.
Wigan fans will hope they will have more frontline stars back on board for the return fixture later this month. But before then, they have three other fixtures - starting on Good Friday.