SHAUN Wane was hurting “badly” after a derby victory dramatically slipped from Wigan’s grasp.
A try by Josh Jones with three minutes to go gave St Helens an 18-14 triumph - and denied the Warriors a chance to move clear at the top of the Super League ladder.
“I’m proud of the effort, but to come away with nothing hurts badly,” said Wane. “For large parts we controlled the game, but it showed the quality they had. I imagine it was a great game to watch - two middles knocking hell out of each other, and good skill - but we got nothing for it.
“There were a lot of positives, we did a lot of good things. But that’s rugby league - unless you do them for 80 minutes, you can get burned.”
Second-placed Wigan can still finish top of the regular Super League season if they beat Castleford - at the DW Stadium - and Leeds lose at Huddersfield.
Both games take place next Friday night, and Warriors will be hoping Leeds’ recent run of form - they have lost three games in a row since their Wembley win - stretches into a fourth week.
But they were left cursing the lost opportunity to take control of their own fate at Langtree Park.
The Warriors led the pulsating derby 14-12 when Jones leapt above Matty Bowen to claim Jon Wilkin’s high ball, and score the match-winning try.
“Matty played well, it was an unfortunate error at the end,” said Wane. “I look deeper into it - who put kick-pressure on, who won the tackle before - but he needs to catch it, simple as that. He catches it, we win.”
The blow - with less than three minutes remaining - settled a frantic, edge-of-the-seat thriller which featured blow-ups, fierce defensive efforts and a stunning George Williams solo try.
Saints boss Keiron Cunningham said: “We defended like troopers and kept finding a way. That team spirit... you can’t manufacture.
Wigan throw a lot of shape at you, they challenge you. But I thought we got some really stiff calls.”
On a night when the rugby union World Cup was launched, both coaches agreed the game showcased league’s strengths.
“It was deserving of a Grand Final, how quick and physical it was - a classic Saints-Wigan game,” added Cunningham.
“It must have been great for the spectators, but not so much for me and Waney.”