Ben Currie made a dramatic comeback from a 10-month injury lay-off with a try that kept alive Warrington’s Super League top-eight hopes.
The Wolves trailed for most of the Grand Final rematch at the DW Stadium but Currie’s 56th-minute try proved decisive as they pulled off a surprise 16-10 win over Wigan to ruin Sean O’Loughlin’s 400th appearance.
The talented second rower, who was in line to make his England debut before suffering a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament playing against Wigan in the Super 8s last September, had spent the first five months of the season watching his side struggle near the foot of the table.
But his eagerly-awaited return could be just the fillip as Warrington seek to ensure their top-flight survival.
Warrington will still be condemned to the Qualifiers if eighth-placed Huddersfield beat bottom club Leigh on Friday while Wigan remain four points adrift of fourth-placed Hull as their title defence took a major jolt.
Skipper O’Loughlin tried his best to rally the below-par champions but this was a performance that will do little to lift coach Shaun Wane’s spirits as he continues to recover from hip surgery.
Yet the visitors could hardly have made a worse start, with full-back Stefan Ratchford fumbling the ball from the kick-off, and Wigan made the most of the perfect attacking position as centre Oliver Gildart raced onto Thomas Leuluai’s expertly-weighted kick to score the opening try.
George Williams could not add the goal and Warrington drew level on 13 minutes when second rower Benjamin Jullien took Ratchford’s pass from dummy half to force his way over the line.
The highlight of a drab first half came at the midway point when O’Loughlin put Leuluai through a gap in the Wolves defence and second rower John Bateman was in support to claim his third try in five matches since making his comeback from a shoulder injury.
Williams’ conversion made it 10-4 but Warrington pulled a try back three minutes before the break when winger Tom Lineham palmed the ball back from Dec Patton’s kick to the corner for centre Ryan Atkins to score his side’s second try.
Ratchford was again wide with the conversion attempt, to leave his side trailing by two points and it was a similar pattern to the game in the second half with neither side able to find much fluency.
The Warriors piled on the pressure with the aid of a string of penalties and two goal-line drop-outs forced by O’Loughlin and Sam Tomkins but Warrington kept their line intact and struck on the counter-attack on 55 minutes.
Stand-off Patton put in a precise grubber kick to the Wigan line and Currie easily won the race to get the all-important touchdown that put his side in front for the first time.
Patton missed the comparatively easy conversion attempt but Ratchford stretched the Wolves’ lead five minutes later with a penalty that made it 14-10 and Lineman pulled off two important tackles on Wigan winger Liam Marshall in the closing stages to ensure they hung on for a famous win which was clinched with Ratchford’s 76th-minute penalty.