Wigan came within the thickness of a coat of paint of becoming Super League's third high-profile casualties of the afternoon before they shook off a spirited Castleford yesterday.
If Rangi Chase's drop-goal attempt had gone over rather than coming back off the post, you would have backed Cas to hold on for a famous victory. As it was, the Warriors breathed again and went down to the other end, where Matty Smith's shot at goal fortuitously ended up back in his arms. The outstanding Sean O'Loughlin stood in the tackle and Chris Tuson – once on loan to the Tigers – broke their hearts with his second try of the match.
It had all looked relatively straightforward for Wigan when they led 22-4 early in the second half, but Cas confirmed the impression they are more formidable than last year by staging what was almost one of the all-time great fightbacks. Jamie Ellis finished a breath-taking, length of the field team try to trigger the revival.
The powerhouse winger, Justin Carney, scored two spectacular tries; three goals from Ellis and Castleford were level. All the momentum was with them, but somehow Wigan managed to stop the landslide and snatch back the game.
"The effort was strong," said the Castleford coach, Ian Millward. "It would have been nice to get the result to go with all that effort, but we were probably a bit naïve in the first half."
For all their recent upheavals off the field, Cas have shown they can be competitive this year. "That was our objective in the pre-season," Millward said.
Even in the first half, the Tigers made plenty of chances, but only took one of them – a Jake Webster try set up by the rampaging Carney.
The difference was that Wigan snapped up theirs, through Ben Flower, Pat Richards and Tuson. When Michael McIlorum went over from dummy half soon after the interval, everything seemed to be in place for a comfortable win.
"But credit to Cas for the way they came back," said the Wigan coach, Shaun Wane. "We had to show some steel to get out of it."
Wane paid particular tribute to his captain, O'Loughlin, calling him "a coach's dream and an outstanding individual." Without his crucial play in the last two minutes, Cas would have had at least a draw as well as all the compliments.
Castleford Tansey; Carney, Shenton, Webster, Dixon; Chase, Ellis; Emmitt, Clark, Mason, Gilmour, Hauraki, Millington.Substitutes used Huby, Massey, Holmes, Thompson.
Wigan Tomkins; Charnley, Hughes, Thornley, Richards; Green, Smith; Dudson, McIlorum, Crosby, Tuson, Farrell, O'Loughlin. Substitutes used Flower, Taylor, Powell, Burke.
Referee R Hicks (Oldham).