ST Helens put a dampener on Wigan’s end-of-season celebrations as they gained their first win in four attempts against their rivals to secure a third-place finish in Super League and a trip to Warrington in next weekend’s play-offs.
The Warriors, already guaranteed top spot and a home tie next Friday against Catalan Dragons or Leeds, never fully recovered from the early dismissal of hooker Michael McIlorum which meant they played 65 minutes of the match with 12 men.
McIlorum was shown a red card by referee James Child for a late and high tackle on St Helens prop Anthony Laffranchi and could miss the start of the Warriors’ play-off campaign through suspension.
Wigan, who were presented with the league leaders’ shield after the match, fought valiantly against the odds in front of a crowd of 21,522 at the DW Stadium but St Helens thoroughly deserved their victory, with Tony Puletua playing a huge role in it.
Saints enjoyed the early pressure and Wigan survived a scare when full-back Sam Tomkins slipped on the greasy turf chasing a grubber kick and winger Josh Charnley came to his rescue by kicking the ball dead.
But Wigan fan Bradley Wiggins, the Olympic and Tour de France hero, was on his feet 11 minutes into the game when the Saints defenders held off Thomas Leuluai as he probed away and found a gap in the line.
Pat Richards’ goal made it 6-0 but the game took a crucial turn four minutes later when McIlorum was dismissed.
It took the visitors some time to make their man advantage count but they seized control with two tries in six minutes.
Hooker James Roby was on hand to take a superb offload from Puletua to score the first and winger Tommy Makinson produced a clinical finish at the corner after centre Michael Shenton had cleverly sucked in two defenders.
Makinson added both conversions, the second from the touchline, to make it 12-6 and that is how it stayed until Wigan drew level three minutes into the second half.
Skipper Sean O’Loughlin took over the dummy-half duties in the absence of McIlorum and his cut-out pass got Richards over at the corner.
St Helens lost scrum-half Jonny Lomax six minutes into the second half and they endured a few moments of anxiety when Roby damaged a shoulder but the England hooker battled on.
The visitors’ kicking - so telling in the first half - deteriorated noticeably, with Jon Wilkin twice kicking out on the full, and the game appeared to be heading Wigan’s way until Tomkins came up with a handling error 30 metres out from his own line.
Puleuta found himself in space and he powered into it before getting the supporting Andrew Dixon over for Saints’ third try on 57 minutes which restored their lead.
With Finch and Leuluai excelling, Saints were forced to defend desperately to keep their lead intact and they were mightily relieved to see Lomax return to the fray.
St Helens’ defence held firm and they struck the telling blow on 69 minutes when Lomax took a return pass from the ever-dangerous Puletua and combined with Lance Hohaia to get centre Josh Jones over for a fourth try.
Makinson failed with a second conversion but Saints made sure of the win nine minutes from the end when Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook offloaded from the tackle to get Lomax over.
Tomkins grabbed a last-minute consolation try and Richards kicked his third goal but the Saints fans were already in celebratory mood by then.