WIGAN returned to winning ways with a convincing performance – but it was a bittersweet trip to Hull and back for the Warriors faithful.
After days of speculation, chairman Ian Lenagan confirmed, within minutes of the final hooter, that head coach Michael Maguire will return to Australia with the South Sydney Rabbitohs at the end of the season.
The King is dead, long live the King.
With all of the pre-match talk dominated by talk of their leader abdicating, the out-of-form Warriors would have been forgiven for turning up to Craven Park with their minds elsewhere.
Not a bit of it.
Wigan warmed up for next weekend’s visit of St Helens with a five-try victory that suggested Maguire may well have to make room for a couple more pieces of silverware in his luggage when he jets home in October.
Joel Tomkins, Ryan Hoffman, Josh Charnley, Thomas Leuluai and George Carmont grabbed the tries for the visitors, but it was the evergreen Paul Deacon who pulled most of the strings.
Deacon was making a welcome return to the starting side after injury, and the wily half-back was instrumental in gaining the Warriors an early foothold. The former Bradford man almost created Wigan’s first try in their first attack, his crossfield kick almost pounced on by Charnley only for Rovers to clear their lines through Kris Welham.
Welham was quickly in action at the other end, when it took a ball-and-all tackle from Joel Tomkins to prevent the Rovers centre crashing over.
Charnley, in for Darrell Goulding on right wing, then made big yards to help his side clear their lines and give Wigan promising field position inside the Rovers half.
And the visitors took full advantage by registering the opening try on the 15-minute mark.
Again it was a Deacon kick that caused havoc near the Robins’ line, a Wigan hand touching the ball back, and Sean O’Loughlin toeing the ball into the hands of Joel Tomkins.
The makeshift centre showed great strength to crash over, taking Ben Cockayne over the line with him to give his side the perfect start.
Pat Richards couldn’t convert, but the reigning Man of Steel did add the extras to Wigan’s second try which arrived seven minutes later.
A towering kick from Deacon was spilled by former Warrior Liam Colbon to hand the visitors a repeat set, which became another when Thierry Alibert awarded them a penalty 10 metres out.
After spurning the chance to kick for goal, Wigan were rewarded for their positivity when Hoffman burst his way through three would-be tacklers on the first tackle to extend his side’s lead.
Rovers’ attempts at a quick response was snuffed out when Sam Latus was bundled into touch a yard short by Charnley and Sam Tomkins.
However, the home side were not to be denied just before the half-hour as Matt Cook just about reached over the line after Hoffman was unable to complete his tackle.
Scott Murrell’s goal reduced the arrears to just four points, but Wigan regained the ascendancy with their third try just three minutes later.
Half of the team were involved in a great passing move from left to right, which culminated in Charnley showing some magnificent footwork to round his marker and touch-down.
Again Richards was on the mark, and the Warriors bossed the rest of the first half with the help of some poor handling from their opponents.
The interval came at the right time for Rovers, who then took full advantage of the break to come out firing at the start of the second stanza.
The deficit was back at one try within three minutes of the restart and it was big Willie Mason who grabbed the try, to the delight of the home fans in the main stand.
But once again the Wigan response was immediate, Leuluai taking advantage of some slack marking to scoot over from dummy half in front of the considerable and boisterous away support.
Richards’ goal extended the lead to 12, and Wigan were looking relatively comfortable with Rovers coughing up possession time and again whenever they got in sight of their opponents’ line.
The points were almost sealed at the three-quarter mark when Carmont sent Richards racing towards the corner, only for desperate cover to force him touch in goal.
And Rovers were given a lifeline 15 minutes from time when Charnley committed the cardinal sin of allowing a huge kick from Murrell to bounce on the Wigan line, and Ben Cockayne nipped in to score under the posts.
But a booming restart from Richards trapped Cockayne behind his own line for a drop out, with Alibert then awarding Wigan a penalty for a high shot on the first tackle.
This time Richards did take the two on offer to nudge the lead out to eight points, and Carmont’s late score added the icing on the cake for the Wigan fans – before news of Maguire’s departure brought them back down to earth.