Wigan Warriors 16 Hull FC 14: Racism allegation overshadows another win
Wigan's perfect start to 2021 continued - but the game was marred by an allegation of racism.
In the closing stages of the first-half referee James Child placed an incident on report after a complaint from Hull forward Andre Savelio, who could be heard on TV footage saying Tony Clubb - not on the field at the time - had made a racist remark.
The RFL's match review panel will scrutinise footage on Monday before deciding whether to issue any charges.
The controversy soured an entertaining, seesawing, salty contest full of spills and thrills in equal measure.
And ultimately, the Warriors emerged with another victory - which was arguably the hardest-fought of them all.
Adrian Lam's side headed into the final five minutes with a slender 16-14 lead and after Harry Smith and then Zak Hardaker had gone close, they had the defensive resolve and nous to see the game out.
They were playing their second game at home in a week, and were unchanged from the side which beat Castleford 22-12 in their last outing.
The game pitted two unbeaten sides together, and was also a dress-rehearsal for their crunch Challenge Cup quarter-final tie next week.
Hardaker's full-back duel with Jake Connor provided an intriguing subplot to the clash, and England coach Shaun Wane was back at the DW Stadium to watch the England hopefuls. There are games when No.1s don't come into direct contact with each other but these two did midway through the first half - in dramatic circumstances.
With Hardaker gunning for the line, he was tackled high by Connor and - in the fall-out - pointed at his rival and had strong words before the FC man was sinbinned.
It wasn't the biggest controversy of the opening half; referee Child informed both captains he was placing an alleged incident of racism on report.
Those flashpoints aside, the first half was as tight as many predicted, but sloppier than most may have expected.
Connor was caught behind his own line in the opening five minutes and a subsequent spill from Mahe Fonua kept Wigan pressing their opponents' line, allowing Jackson Hastings to open the scoring, dummying, ducking and driving over in the 10th minute. Hardaker's first of two goals made it 6-0.
The handling errors were catching, from both sides.
And when Bevan French spilled the ball in the 16th minute, it set up the position for FC to counter on their own left edge as Adam Swift punished a stretched defence. Marc Sneyd's sideline conversion locked the score.
Two more errors in their own half kept Lam's side under pressure, and FC's rapid hands would have reaped a try if Liam Farrell - again at centre - hadn't intercepted Fonua's pass.
Harry Smith provided some of the hosts' better chances, piercing the line with a neat step and go and going close and later laying on a neat reverse kick for Hardaker to go close - only to be stopped by Connor.
Wigan elected to run that penalty rather than take the two, but the decision backfired as Jordan Lane disrupted the attack and set off down field, from which position Sneyd's penalty poked FC 8-6 in front.
But as fans began trying to decipher the alleged racism claim, Wigan powered back in front as Hastings sent Farrell over to put them 10-8 in front at the break.
They received a let-off early in the second half, the video referee ruling out a Hull try for a knock-on after Josh Griffin pounced on Smith's wayward pass. But moments later, Fonua leapt ahead of French to collect Sneyd's pinpoint kick, though he couldn't show the same accuracy with the conversion.
Ethan Havard was penalised for an off-the-ball challenge, giving Sneyd the chance to make it 14-10.
Wigan seemed rattled but they gradually began regaining their composure, Jake Bibby locking the scores with a tidy finish in the corner. And then, in the 65th minute, Hardaker struck a penalty which sent them into a 16-14 lead which they clung on to until the end.
Wigan: Hardaker; Bibby, Isa, Farrell, French; Smith, Hastings; Singleton, Powell, Clubb, Bateman, Smithies, Partington. Subs: Bullock, Byrne, Havard, Shorrocks.
Hull FC: Connor; Fonua, Tuimavave, Griffin, Swift; McNamara, Sneyd; Taylor, Houghton, Sao, Savelio, Lane, Cator. Subs: Fash, Johnstone, Satae, Scott.