Wigan, top of Super League all season, may not finish it that way after being edged out by their closest rivals in a match that made up in passion for anything it lacked in precision.
Ben Westwood made the vital breakthrough with a 71st-minute try, leaving Wigan just two points clear of Warrington with five to play and tricky away games at Hull and Leeds coming up. It was a victory earned by the Wolves' sheer determination after they had taken an early battering.
Both coaches agreed that the one-sided opening exchanges had ultimately proved the key to the match.
"Our first 20 minutes was just ridiculous," said Warrington's Tony Smith. "But we were galvanised by it and we grew from it."
For Wigan's Michael Maguire, it was one huge missed opportunity. "We put ourselves in great positions, but we didn't execute as well as we have in the past," he said.
Warrington were well aware of what was at stake last night, with their captain Adrian Morley saying that without beating Wigan in this one there was no way of overhauling them for the League Leaders' Shield.
The importance of this game was also reflected in the rotation policy of coach Smith with Morley and Lee Briers among those given a recent rest. That seemed to have done them little good in the first 25 minutes when difficult handling conditions following a torrential downpour saw Wolves make every mistake in the book.
Morley and Chris Hicks were the first to lose possession in the tackle. In between, Garreth Carvell was penalised for a late challenge on Sam Tomkins to leave Pat Richards with an easy kick to open the scoring.
Tomkins's clever kick almost produced the first try for Richards, but he could not ground the ball in the corner. After 11 minutes, though, Ben Harrison's lost ball gave Wigan a chance they did take when Mark Riddell found a gap from dummy half.
Wigan were so dominant that the only surprise was that they were a mere six points ahead. As soon as Warrington began to hang on to the ball, the complexion of the game changed. On their first proper attack, Ryan Atkins's grubber forced a drop-out. From that possession, Briers and Matt King moved the ball smartly to the right wing for Hicks to score.
Briers's slide-rule kick then saw Richie Myler touch down at the foot of the upright. Now it was Wolves' turn to threaten and, in the minutes leading up to half-time, Myler was twice close to scoring again from Briers's close-range kicks.
The theme of poor ball security continued, with Martin Gleeson the first culprit of the second half. His error was punished instantly, Atkins feeding Chris Riley, who kicked ahead precisely for Atkins to touch down.
Westwood kicked the conversion from the touchline for a 10-point lead and Wigan needed something special to get them back into the game. They got it when Tomkins stepped past an on-rushing defence and slipped a beautiful back-handed pass to Chris Tuson, who still had plenty to do but made the try-line with a combination of strength and a change of direction.
Hicks had one try disallowed for a forward pass as Warrington threatened again. Instead, Wigan claimed an equalising try out of nothing when Richie Mathers fumbled Briers's pass and Richards scooped up to go on a 90-metres run and score over the line.
Richards could not add the goal and Liam Farrell could not force the ball down when Mathers had a second horror moment soon after. The deadlock was broken when Warrington got the ball back after Briers's kick was charged down. Riley ran cross-field and dropped the ever-willing Westwood through a gap. Briers added a drop-goal to steer his side home.
Wigan: Roberts; Goulding, Gleeson, Carmont, Richards; S Tomkins, Leuluai; Fielden, Riddell, Prescott, Hansen, J Tomkins, O'Loughlin. Substitutes used: Deacon, Farrell, Tuson, Mossop.
Warrington: Mathers; Hicks, King, Atkins, Riley; Briers, Myler; Morley, Monaghan, Carvell, L Anderson, Westwood, Harrison. Substitutes used: Wood, Clarke, Grix, Solomona.
Referee: R Silverwood (Mirfield)Reuse content