Wigan 10 Warrington 16
Sean O'Loughlin's 400th Wigan appearance went something like his first - with a narrow home defeat.
Warrington upstaged the skipper’s milestone appearance by coming from behind to claim a victory which offered them faint hopes of avoiding the bottom-four.
Wigan led 10-8 approaching the hour-mark but Ben Currie’s try, and two subsequent Stefan Ratchford penalties, swung the result in Wire’s favour.
Against the yardstick set by their previous two meetings - in the Cup and at the Magic Weekend - this contest fell drastically short. The error count was high, the quality awfully low.
Warrington deserve credit for the win, but even they may admit Wigan were far too often their own worst enemy.
Their attacks were poor, pedestrian and predictable. Whether their French raid five days earlier had a bearing on their laboured display is unclear but, either way, this was a step back on their recent progress.
And it remains to be seen how damaging this result may prove to be in their hopes of cracking into the top-four.
Warrington headed into the televised showdown knowing they needed to win to keep alive their faint hopes of avoiding the bottom-four ahead of the split for the Super-8s.
But Wigan had no shortage of motivation themselves, having gone four games unbeaten to ignite their stuttering campaign - and, of course, the chance to mark O’Loughlin’s milestone with a victory.
The skipper wore special gold numbering on the back of his shirt - two of Wigan’s other 10 members of the ‘400 club’, Billy Boston and Shaun Edwards, watched the game from the directors’ box. And among the other guests were Dan Sarginson and Josh Charnley, who left Wigan last year for Gold Coast and Sale Sharks respectively.
Liam Marshall, who had scored eight tries in three games against the Wolves this year, was recalled ahead of Tom Davies, while Liam Farrell’s absence to a knee injury opened up a chance for Jack Wells to return. Wolves had Currie back in their side for the first time since he suffered a serious knee injury playing against Wigan last autumn.
The hosts edged an error-strewn opening half 10-8 and they made awfully hard-work of it.
They made a string of unforced errors which frequently released the pressure or gave the visitors’ unearned chances. Wire were just as guilty of those sins, and gifted their hosts an immediate chance after fumbling from the kick-off and - a minute later - Oliver Gildart coolly collected Thomas Leuluai’s stab-through to open their account. George Williams was off-target with his sideline conversion.
A brief melee - sparked by Ashton Sims’ high-shot on John Bateman - got ugly when Joe Burgess appear to pull the big Australian’s hair-knot.
Wigan’s errors put them under pressure and, with ill-discipline compounding their woes, Benjamin Jullien punished a soft right-edge defence from close range to lock the scores.
The game briefly settled into a rhythm, and Wigan extended their lead when O’Loughlin sent Leuluai clear, and he found Bateman on his inside to cross. Williams’ goal opened up a 10-4 lead.
But errors continued to blight their display, the only positive from their spell under pressure was marvelling at the ferocity of their defence. Bateman was typically tigerish, and Tony Clubb - arguably their best player - and Taulima Tautai had an impact from the bench.
Before the break, Wire cut the margin to two-points when Dec Patton angled a kick, Tom Lineham palmed the ball back for Ryan Atkins to cross.
The early minutes of the second-half weren’t encouraging, the scrappy passages played out to the soundtrack of James Child’s whistle.
O’Loughlin returned to the action in the 50th minute, immediately earned his side a penalty from a strong drive, and later forced a repeat set.
But Wigan’s attacks were flat and predictable, and after failing to break through, they succumbed to a sucker-punch at the other end when Currie touched down Ratchford’s dribbled kick.
Ratchford was again off-target with the conversion, but their two-point lead sent panic into the home ranks, increasing their errors.
Ratchford capitalised on one of those penalties to poke Wolves into a 14-10 lead.
Marshall frequently looked shaky, and never had the attacking chances to extend his prolific run against their rivals.
Entering the final 10 minutes, the tension was ratcheted up, but Wolves smelled victory and worked hard to snuff out opportunities. Frustration got the better of Bateman, who lashed out at Peta Hiku and concede a 76th-minute penalty, which Ratchford kicked to make it 16-10.
Wigan: S Tomkins; Marshall, Gelling, Gildart, Burgess; Williams, Leuluai; Nuuausala, McIlorum, Sutton, Isa, Bateman, O’Loughlin. Subs: Clubb, Powell, Tautai, Wells.
Warrington: Ratchford; Hiku, Pomeroy, Atkins, Lineham; Patton, Gidley; Hill, Clark, Sims, Jullien, Hughes, Cooper. Subs: Currie, Savelio, Philbin, Smith.
Referee: James Child
Starman: Tony Clubb