Rugby League: Wigan exploit Warrington's indiscipline: Last-minute penalty allows champions to start new year by stealing march on rivals

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Warrington. . .6

Wigan. . . . . 8

WARRINGTON did their utmost to launch the Stones Bitter Championship into 1994 without its customary aura of inevitability, but were cruelly undone by a last-minute flash of indiscipline.

A second-half performance bristling with defiant commitment had apparently earned Warrington a tense draw in front of a capacity crowd with thousands more locked out. With 20 seconds remaining, however, Mike Gregory and Paul Cullen combined to throw it all away in the most dramatic fashion.

Gregory dropped John Thursfield's pass under pressure from Wigan's advancing markers and after Andy Farrell dropped on to the loose ball, a frustrated Cullen clattered in and was penalised for the use of his knees.

The penalty awarded by the referee, Russell Smith, was straight in front of the posts and well within Frano Botica's range, but after Jonathan Davies argued with Smith , the referee moved the kick 10 yards closer for dissent.

Botica made no mistake and the hooter sounded immediately to leave Warrington a bitterly disappointed side. They are now behind Wigan on points difference and have played two more games. Warrington will look back on this in April as a crucial chance that eluded them.

Wigan took an early lead with Offiah racing in, but this was never going to be a repeat of Wigan's romp in the Regal Trophy two weeks earlier. Even though Warrington made too many handling mistakes, their energy and tigerish defence kept the lead down to a manageable six points, the extra two coming from a Botica penalty.

Warrington, impressively fit and enthusiastic, piled on the pressure after Davies put them on to the scoreboard just before the hour and drew level when Greg Mackey got the ball to Gregory and his overhead pass allowed Lee Penny to send Mark Forster over at the corner.

Both sides would have settled for the draw as the match went into injury time, but the Warrington coach, Brian Johnson, was scathing about the way his side let it slip. 'Dumb,' was one of his more polite descriptions.

'A draw would have been a fair result,' said John Dorahy, who must be getting a faint whiff of his first Championship as Wigan coach. 'But they were undisciplined at the end and they paid the price for it.'

Warrington: Penny; Forster, Bateman, Davies, Myler; Ellis, Mackey; Teitzel, Thursfield, Phillips (Hilton, 24), Cullen, Gregory, Shelford.

Wigan: Lydon (Betts, 46); Robinson, Mather (Lydon, 74), Connolly, Offiah; Panapa, Botica; Skerrett, Dermott (Cassidy, 57), Platt, Cowie (Dermott, 74), Farrell, Clarke.

Referee: R Smith (Castleford).

Crooks runs riot, page 24

(Photograph omitted)