IT IS hard to work out whether Lee Radford will feel any better or worse after getting off his sick bed to witness this remarkable Super League game.
The Hull FC coach had been ill all week as the Challenge Cup holders prepared for the Wembley re-match but returned to hopefully see his side take a giant step towards the Super League semi-finals.
Despite seeing Liam Watts controversially sent-off for an alleged raised forearm in the 22nd minute – the prop’s third red card this season – it seemed his heroic side might, indeed, still pull off a stunning fightback.
They trailed 8-6 at the time but fell 20-6 behind early in the second period, Wigan seemingly destined to wreak revenge for their Wembley defeat a fortnight earlier.
However, 12-man Hull – already fielding a depleted side –scored three tries in 11 minutes to turn the contest on its head.
Player of the year Sika Manu started things rolling on the hour with his first try of the season before Marc Sneyd latched onto Albert Kelly’s quality grubber and then Mahe Fonua scored his second after Sam Tomkins spilled another kick.
Leading 22-20, the Airlie Birds sensed a famous win – only to see it agonisingly snatched away when Anthony Gelling, the Cook Islander centre, slipped Sneyd’s tackle in the 76th minute to secure his second try of the night.
Sneyd, man-of-the-match at Wembley, was left helpless on the floor and after Jamie Shaul spilled pushing in the final throes, Wigan’s John Bateman made sure just before the hooter.
Wigan gained some revenge for Wembley but, more importantly for Shaun Wane’s side, rose from sixth to replace Hull in third.
Radford’s side slip to fourth and face a massive game when fifth-placed Wakefield Trinity arrive here on Thursday.
With just two games remaining, they are only a point ahead of the West Yorkshire side.
Everyone expected this to be tasty encounter but did anyone truly envisage there to be quite as much niggle, irritation and pure hostility shown between the sides?
It was one of the most brutal Super League games in some time, Watts’ red card just one of countless flashpoints in a match that threatened to descend into carnage at times.
It was always likely there would be some simmering tension when the sides quickly reconvened so soon after Wembley.
The warning signs had been there; referee Robert Hicks called the captains – Danny Houghton and Sean O’Loughlin – together three times to issue warnings about team behaviour before the 19th minute.
His instructions fell on deaf ears. Watts was dismissed just three minutes later for that raised forearm although, in his defence, many felt the judgment was harsh.
Michael McIlorum, the always robust Wigan hooker, had charged out of the defensive line to try and launch a big hit on the prop about 40m from the Warriors line.
However, Watts spotted him approaching and, so, readjusted as if to protect himself from the imminent collision.
McIllorum’s head caught his opponent’s forearm but it would be hard to prove Watts actually aimed it at him; it seemed more an unfortunate contact than anything else.
Nevertheless, the former England hooker was knocked out and had to be led off dazed and bloodied as the official, to Watts’ disbelief, reached for his card. Ironically, it was the exact same time the same referee dismissed him for a high tackle on Castleford Luke Gale here in April. That day Hull were 18-0 up at that point and they battled hard to hold on for a famous 26-24 victory over the Super League leaders. Circumstances were different here, however.
Hull held on defiantly to the break but conceded a soft 50m intercept as Gelling picked off Sneyd just two minutes into the second period, exactly the sort of start they did not need.
When Tom Davies went over soon after, officials missing Gelling’s forward pass, George Williams converted for 20-6 and Oliver Gildart – who scored in the eight minute – bombed a certain further score when failing to capitalise on Liam Farrell’s break.
It nearly proved so costly for Wigan as Hull staged that rally.
Earlier, Fonua – who scored twice at Wembley – shrugged off Liam Marshall in the corner to respond to Gildart’s opener and Hull, despite a makeshift backline, looked well set to compete.
But Watts’ dismissal eventually cost them and they may also lose Josh Griffin as he was put on report for a dangerous tackle on Bateman.
The spirit, character and endeavour will have heartened Radford so much – but they have now lost both games since retaining the Cup and their league tilt is under scrutiny.
Hull: Shaul, Fonua, Connor, Thompson, Griffin, Kelly, Sneyd, Taylor, Houghton, Bowden, Minichiello, Manu, Watts. Substitutes: Fash, Matongo, Washbrook, Turgut.
Wigan: S. Tomkins, Davies, Gelling, Gildart, Marshall, Williams, Leuluai, Nuuausala, McIlorum, Clubb, Bateman, Farrell, O’Loughlin. Substitutes: Sutton, Tautai, Powell, Isa.
Referee: Robert Hicks (RFL)