WIGAN had themed this fixture as Armed Forces Day – and they had more than enough fire-power to blow the Robins away.
Josh Charnley led the rampage with a hat-trick of tries to stretch his lead at the top of the Super League try-scoring chart to 16, and take his side top of the ladder.
But this was no one-man show as Shaun Wane’s men kicked off the first of a daunting period – they face St Helens (twice), Huddersfield, Leeds and Catalans in the next five weeks – with a display which started commanding and convincing, but deteriorated by the end.
Wigan inflicted most of the damage early on, tearing the Robins apart with a five-try super show inside the opening half-hour to establish a 26-0 lead.
The rest of the contest proved a more even affair but the result was never in doubt, ensuring Wigan stretched their winning run in both competitions to seven matches.
With Brett Finch and Thomas Leuluai combining majestically in the middle and spreading the ball rapidly to both flanks, the three-quarters had a field day, Anthony Gelling also bagging two tries in addition to Charnley’s treble.
During that purple patch, Hull KR were starved of possession and what little they did get, their attacks were quickly smothered out by a hungry, aggressive defence, limiting them to one try in the first-half.
Wigan’s display was so cohesive, the combinations so seamless, that singling out individuals for praise was difficult. But Gelling produced easily his best game yet for the club, Sean O’Loughlin was impeccable as ever and classy Darrell Goulding tormented his counterpart Kris Welham.
Wane decided not to tinker with the side which beat Featherstone in the Cup a week ago. George Carmont returned after a thigh injury, replacing Jack Hughes at centre, though the flame-haired youngster retained his place in the squad after Paul Prescott withdrew with a back complaint.
Hull KR had coughed and spluttered throughout the early part of the season. Out of the Challenge Cup, out of the play-off positions, coach Craig Sandercock predicted last night’s game was going to be their toughest of the season – and that forecast proved prophetic.
For Wigan, the quarter-final draw had put this match – their final run-out before facing Saints – under sharper focus, and Wane demanded a strong display.
Charnley got the home side off the mark in the seventh minute, when the ball was spread from the left. Sadly, the winger couldn’t convert – he finished with four from seven attempts.
The home side enjoyed the bulk of the possession, and played the game at a rapid tempo. A rare handling mistake by Finch deep inside their own half presented the Robins a chance – but the Aussie stand-off redeemed his error by stealing the ball in a one-on-one tackle.
As Gareth Hock had running repairs on a head wound, Carmont went painfully close to extending their advantage with a neat passage of play with Gelling down the left channel.
And from the resulting drop-out, Sam Tomkins conjured a try from nothing. Picking up the scraps of a loose ball, he crabbed along the KR line, teasing the defenders before slipping beyond Kris Welham to make it 10-0.
And from the resulting kick-off, Wigan eased down field and extended their lead with Lee Mossop charging over from Finch’s pass. But the game was held up for several minutes as referee Phil Bentham received treatment on a suspected broken leg after being accidentally struck by Hull KR’s Shannon McDonnell.
The interruption did little to halt the Warriors juggernaut. Their passing was crisp, their options intelligent, and their scoring rate was keeping up with the clock as Gelling, ball gripped in one hand, swept over in the left corner from Carmont’s pass.
And then vintage play by Goulding saw the centre glide beyond Welham, before laying Charnley’s second of the game – and 15th of the Super League campaign – on a platter.
Wigan went until the half-hour mark before conceding their first penalty – culprit Jeff Lima put his hand up by way of apology – and the visitors went close to opening their account with a midfield passage, only halted by Hicks for a Green forward pass.
Hull KR were improving, however, and on the back of a contentious penalty – Finch harshly cited for holding down – they found enough space for Ben Galea to canter over for a try converted by Wigan old-boy Michael Dobson to make it 26-6.
Wane’s half-time pearls of wisdom had an instant effect, as Wigan’s razor-sharp attack finished with Charnley bagging his hat-trick following more crafty work from his centre Goulding. And on the opposite flank, Gelling grabbed his second when he danced over from Finch’s raking pass.
But it didn’t all go Wigan’s way. Sandwiched in between Wigan’s two scores was a reply by McDonnell, during a spell when indiscipline crept into the home side’s display.
And they scored twice more in five minutes late on to flatter the scoreline. First, Josh Hodgson latched onto Liam Watts’ offloads to dart over, and then Welham profited from Dobson’s quick-thinking close to the line. Gelling was denied a hat-trick by the video official.