Wakefield Trinity Wildcats knocked champions Wigan off the top of Super League after completing their first win over the Warriors in five years.
After trailing 18-6 in the first half, Wakefield’s long-suffering fans could have been forgiven for fearing the worst.
Captain Danny Kirmond had given the hosts an early lead, only for three quickfire tries from the visitors via Jack Hughes, Liam Farrell and Anthony Gelling to seemingly spell trouble for Wakefield.
But they roared back, cheered on by a Belle Vue crowd enjoying the sun-baked afternoon, with tries from Tim Smith, Richard Owen and Richard Moore to lead 24-18 at half-time.
Farrell crossed after the break, Matty Smith kicking his fourth successive conversion to level the scores.
Paul Sykes was matching Smith with his goal-kicking, knocking over a penalty for his fifth score of the afternoon, before Dan Sarginson once more gave Wigan a slender lead.
But Wakefield were not to be denied as tries from Danny Washbook and Reece Lyne handed James Webster’s team a welcome win, which sees them move 10 points clear of second-from-bottom Bradford Bulls.
“It was an exciting game,” said Webster. “I thought the boys played really tough and gutsed it out. Wigan came at us for the full 80 minutes. I thought it was a decent game of rugby if you’re a neutral, and you will have enjoyed it.
“But as a Wigan or a Wakefield supporter there was a couple of moments where it was heart-in-your-mouth sort of stuff.”
Wigan put out a team missing several key players, after their midweek exertions against Widnes and a crunch derby with St Helens on the horizon, and Webster accepted Wakfield benefitted from the fixture’s timing.
“I’m under no illusions that we got them at a good time,” he said. “The first day I spoke to my staff preparing for Wigan, I said we had a massive advantage.
“We had seven days to prepare for Wigan, whereas Wigan probably only had four days to look at Wakefield because they had a game in between.
“I don’t think he (Wigan coach Shaun Wane) showed us any disrespect with the team he picked. All his kids have played outstanding all year and that same team has put 40 (points) on many a team this year.”
Wigan coach Wane revealed hooker Michael McIlorum broke his arm in Wednesday’s victory over Widnes and will be on the sidelines for eight weeks, adding to Wigan’s injury problems.
“We’re doing it tough at the minute with injuries to major players,” Wane said.
“I still don’t accept performances like that, no matter how young they are.
“We played poorly but we still could have sneaked it with a bit more composure and that’s what your leaders give you. We lacked them. We lacked a bit of energy. I think three games in a week got to them a bit, a young team. You can’t come to places like this in Super League and give penalties away like that. The best team won. Wakefield seemed to want it a bit more than us.”
Wakefield: Mathers, Owen, Ryan, Lyne, Riley, Sykes, T Smith, Anderson, McShane, Scruton, Gilmour, Kirmond, Washbrook. Substitutes: Godinet, Tautai, Moore, D Smith.
Wigan: Sarginson, Charnley, Goulding, Gelling, Murphy, Powell, M Smith, Taylor, Williams, Flower, Hughes, L Farrell, Burke. Substitutes: James, C Farrell, Sutton, Wright.
Referee: G Stokes (RFL).