A gutsy defensive display and ultimately the boot of Brett Hodgson helped Warrington to their biggest win of the season so far as they edged Wigan Warriors 22-20 in a breathtaking event-filled encounter at the DW Stadium between last year’s top two.

Both sides came into the titanic clash on the back of slightly unconvincing performances against ‘lower’ opposition. Wigan’s surpise loss to Widnes in round 6 had been followed by an edgy 42-30 win over London, whilst the Wolves were lucky to come away with a win over Wakefield in their previous match.

Whilst the referee and players’ donned special colours donned special colours to celebrate ‘Sport Relief’ there would be no relief for the players in what was a tough and nonstop thrilling encounter in front of the 21,279 crowd.  The match got off to a frenetic start and both sides made several mistakes with incorrect play-the-balls, demonstrating the nerves and over-eagerness within the players early on. Wigan opened the scoring on five minutes thanks to a penalty goal from Pat Richards. However, a mistake from forward Paul Prescott from the kick-off gave Warrington a chance near the Wigan try line and Ryan Atkins went in at the corner, following a clinical passing move from Lee Briers and Richie Myler which put the centre in space out wide. Hodgson’s conversion made it 6-2.

However, the home side were to dominate much of the first half. As Sam Tomkins was put through a gap and headed for the try line a great chase and cover tackle from Ryan Atkins to prevent a try. Soon after the pressure on Warrington told, as Wigan attacked in the Wolves’ half again. Hooker Michael McIlorum was prevented from getting the ball down over the line after a great tackle from Ben Westwood but the Wolves defence was unable to stop Gareth Hock’s dive from dummy half on the next play as the Warriors posted their first try. Richards adding the extras to put the hosts ahead again.

Despite the pressure, Warrington still created chances for themselves and a Brett Finch tackle was needed to stop Lee Briers getting to the try line after the veteran stand-off was put through the gap. However, on the 25-minute mark Wigan pounced again. A break from Liam Farrell resulted in a quick play-the-ball and McIlorum made the most of the opportunity from dummy-half to extend the home side’s lead to 12-6. Josh Charnley missed the goal however, as the young winger took over the goalkicking responsibilities from Pat Richards who picked up a knock from a collision with teammate Tomkins just previous.

The Wolves clawed their way back just before half-time and after receiving back-to-back penalties the ball was swept out to Joel Monaghan who slid in the right-side corner, catching struggling opposite number Richards infield. Despite the missed conversion, Warrington were given another opportunity to level the game as they received a penalty in the Wigan half in the last minute of the half and Hodgson duly obliged to make it 12-12 at the break.

Perhaps aggrieved not to be leading after having much of the first-half, the Warriors made a perfect start after the break. Sam Tomkins’ break put Wigan upfield, as the fullback elected to go for the try line on his own despite support on either side. However, the cover defence only delayed the inevitable and a passing move out to Pat Richards put the winger in to give the hosts the lead. Charnley missed his second conversion but he did slot over a penalty a few minutes later to give Wigan a 6-point advatage.

However, as Wigan looked to lauch another attack on the left-hand side their momentum was stalled as Lee Briers intercepted a pass and ran in from 40 metres to score Warrington’s third. Hodgson’s conversion went in off the post and the scores were once again level. Another penalty put Wigan back in front and they enjoyed a large amount of possession near the Warrington line. The defence held out, with Pat Richard’s try claim ruled out by the video referee with his foot shown to be in touch before he put the ball down in.

After absorbing yet more pressure, the Wolves got into the Wigan half following a Matty Blythe break. Despite the ball going dead for a 20-metre restart at the end of the set Warrington soon had a penalty in the Warriors half as forward Epelehame Luaki led with the forearm. Following another penalty for a grapple tackle the Wolves elected to kick for two and Hodgson levelled the match again. With Wigan now under the cosh making mistakes another penalty was awarded to the Wolves after a dangerous sper tackle from Luaki. From 40 metres out Hodgson’s trusty boot prevailed as the ball dropped just over the bar to put the Wolves ahead with nine minutes left, for the first time since the 19th minute.

Wigan’s last chance in Wolves territory saw a high kick to the corner but Charnley was penalised for taking the Warrington man out and the Wolves played out the closing stages to hold on for a famous hard-fought win.

Simon Mulligan

Image: bbc.co.uk