Wigan Warriors 22 Bradford 30

Wigan's Dom Crosby is tackled in the Stobart Super League game against Bradford Bulls at the DW Stadium
Wigan's Dom Crosby is tackled in the Stobart Super League game against Bradford Bulls at the DW Stadium

WIGAN blew the chance to open up a five-point gap at the top of the ladder as Bradford pulled off a shock upset at the DW Stadium.

The Bulls shrugged off their financial worries to produce a performance chock full of heart and aggression, with several of their players putting themselves firmly in the shop-window for prospective new employers.

They rattled Wigan with a high-tempo display, inflicting the killer blows with tries from Elliot Whitehead and Karl Pryce in the final few minutes – while the home side were down to 12-men – to swing a 22-18 deficit into a 30-22 advantage.

Many of the fans vented their anger at erratic referee Tim Roby.

But Shaun Wane was left cursing a drastically below-par outing from his own team, as their imperious 13-game winning streak came to an abrupt halt.

They failed to build pressure at crucial times, several gilt-edged chances were squandered, and their discipline went Awol at times – most noticeably when Mike McIlorum was red-carded in the 55th minute for punching Elima.

At least Warrington’s surprise loss to Salford ensured the Cherry and Whites maintained their three-point margin at the top of the Super League ladder – but that was one of the few positives from an otherwise disappointing evening.

Sam Tomkins withdrew pre-game with a dead-leg, giving a first chance to rookie full-back Jack Murphy – the sixth academy player to debut under Wane this year.

In addition, the coach promoted Welsh prospect Rhodri Lloyd to the starting line-up and Ben Flower returned to action, as expected, from a three-month lay-off.

With the likes of Thomas Leuluai, Harrison Hansen, Jeff Lima, Pat Richards, Paul Prescott and Tomkins on the sidelines, they were certainly lacking plenty of fire-power.

Yet despite Wigan’s depleted line-up, they were the heavy favourites with the bookmakers.

And when Anthony Gelling swept over in the fourth-minute – following quick-fire passes from Gareth Hock and the vintage George Carmont – everything seemed to be going to plan.

But Bradford re-gathered well and went toe-to-toe with their esteemed hosts for the rest of a seesawing opening half, which incredibly saw the Bulls lead 18-16 at the break.

Wigan’s performance lacked the usual zip and their handling was poor – and blaming those on the absence of Tomkins would be doing an injustice to debutant Murphy, who was accomplished in the No.1 role.

And he propelled his hometown club into a 10-0 lead with a truly memorable try, in which he carved through the line, pinballing out of two attempted tackles and turning on the after-burners to soar over for a try which Josh Charnley converted.

Sandwiching that scorching effort were missed-chances which drew loud gasps from the bumper crowd – both created by all-action Farrell, who created an opening for Darrell Goulding which was snuffed out, and then laid a chance for Gelling on a platter only for the Kiwi to fluff his lines.

Wigan’s handling showed few signs of improving, and when Epa Lauaki was penalised for a play-the-ball infringement, it handed the Bulls a lifeline which they gratefully snatched through ex-Warrior Pryce shortly after he’d returned to the pitch following a sin-bin for holding down. Luke Gale’s goal narrowed the score to 10-6.

Wigan had more chances, most notable down the left channel, where Finch’s measured kick was chased by Gelling, who palmed the ball inside to Hock – only for Roby to rule the ball had floated forward.

And minutes later, another promising attack broke down when Jack Hughes dropped the ball – from which Keith Lulia stormed down the wing, sending Brett Kearney over.

Flower – playing his first match since March – crashed over for his first try for Wigan, and Charnley’s conversion edged Wigan four points clear.

But on the stroke of half-time, a frantic bid to keep the ball alive – married with an apparent missed knock-on by Roby – ended when Lulia slid over, Gale’s conversion edging the Bulls two points ahead.

A nervous and flat period from the restart was brought to life when Charnley chased Finch’s raking kick, forcing a drop-out.

And from that dominant position, Dom Crosby squeezed through a gap for his first Super League try. Charnley tagged on the extras to make it 22-18.

But just when Wane would have wanted his team to turn the screw, they were reduced to 12-men when McIlorum was sent off in the 55th minute.

The hooker appeared to react to a tackle by lashing out, landing a solid punch on Elima, leaving Roby little option but to brandish a red card.

And the simmering tensions threatened to spill over at several points during the final quarter as the Bulls sniffed a shock upset and found an extra gear.

With Wigan appearing rattled on their own line, Whitehead wrong-footed Carmont to cross – and Gale’s conversion put the visitors in the driving seat – before Pryce grabbed his second by snatching the ball from Charnley grasp, after he had defused a crossfield kick.

Murphy’s try-saving tackle on Jarrod Sammut stemmed the bleeding but Wigan couldn’t muster a late , great escape.