WIGAN let the chance to go top of the table slip from their grasp in a fiercely contested derby with Warrington.
The Warriors had led 18-12 early in the second-half but couldn’t prevent the Wolves fighting back to level the scores – before Brett Hodgson held his nerve to boot a decisive penalty when Epalahame Lauaki committed a dangerous tackle.
A string of mistakes and missed-chanced ultimately came back to haunt Shaun Wane’s side, allowing the Wolves to open up a three-point lead on Shaun Wane’s side at the summit.
Last night’s contest contained far too many errors and interruptions to reach epic scale. But the tight scoreline, seesawing action and simmering tensions created an electric atmosphere from the 21,000-plus crowd – and ensured it was exciting and entertaining from the very first carry right through to the dramatic final few minutes.
The score had been locked 12-12 at the break with tries by Gareth Hock and Mike McIlorum cancelled out by Wolves’ Ryan Atkins and Joel Monaghan.
And that theme stretched into the second-half, with Pat Richards and Lee Briers exchanging tries – and each side tagging on a conversion and penalty – to lock the scores at 20-20 until Hodgson’s telling contribution.
Manchester United heroes Ryan Giggs and Michael Carrick were at the DW Stadium to watch two teams with big hopes of reaching Old Trafford at the end of this season.
Yet neither side were at their imperious best, with both halves littered by errors.
Richards opened the scoring with a penalty which sent him into Wigan’s exclusive 2,000-point club.
But the Wolves’ response was as immediate as it was impressive, as they worked their way efficiently down field and Atkins muscled over for his seventh try of the season. Hogdson nailed the sideline conversion to make it 6-2.
And they had a great scoring chance minutes later when Chris Bridge released Joel Monaghan, only for Hock to gratefully gobble up the Aussie flyer’s inside pass to defuse the threat.
Wigan were growing in confidence, though, and when Finch put Hock through an opening, it set the platform for the second-rower to crash over from their next attack with a determined dummy-half drive. Richards’ conversion edged Wigan 8-6 ahead.
On the half-hour, McIlorum dashed over from short-range, taking advantage of a defence which had been twisted out of shape by Liam Farrell’s midfield break. With Richards dazed from a collision with Tomkins minutes earlier, Josh Charnley stepped up to take the conversion but pushed his attempt wide.
The Wolves ensured they remained in the hunt, dragging the scores level with Monaghan’s flying try and a Hodgson penalty on the stroke of half-time.
Wane’s half-time words of inspiration had an immediate effect, with Richards squeezing over in the corner following Tomkins’ scorching mid-field break.
Charnley missed the sideline conversion, but booted his side six points ahead minutes later when Morley was penalised for holding down.
But the Wolves again leveled, Briers plucking out Leuluai’s pass to race over, Hodgson’s conversion sailing over with a deflection off the upright.
The game continued to be punctuated by Richard Silverwood’s interruptions, but Wigan gratefully edged ahead with a Charnley penalty in the 55th minute after Matt Blythe was adjudged to have ripped the ball from Finch’s grasp.
Wigan continued to press but after Richards had a try ruled out by the video referee, it was the Wolves who scored next through a Hodgson penalty in the 67th minute.
Lauaki – who had placed on report earlier for leading with the elbow – again faced the wrath of Silverwood, who penalised him for a dangerous tackle in the 77th minute. And Hodgson made no mistake, stepping up to nail the effort and set up a grandstand finish.