Hull KR 24 Wigan 8

Wigan Warriors head coach Shaun Wane
Wigan Warriors head coach Shaun Wane

From Magic to lethargic.

Having beaten Leeds, Catalans and Warrington on the road in recent weeks, Shaun Wane’s Warriors lost ground on leaders St Helens with a surprise defeat at bottom-club Hull KR.

Wigan have previous for finishing games strongly this season. Against the Robins, it was the opposite, starting brightly and taking an 8-0 lead but fading alarmingly from that point.

They tried to turn the course of the game, but their attack plodded far too often, passes were spilled far too frequently, their composure crumbled and their defence was unusually flaky.

It was Wigan’s first defeat since Good Friday and while even the fiercest critic would accept the occasional, surprise loss during a good campaign, the timing of this was awful - just a week before their Challenge Cup quarter-final showdown at Warrington.

Whether their poor display was in part due to the emotional upheaval of Shaun Wane’s decision to step down, the disruption of missing a couple of key operators or it was simply an off-night, is unclear.

Whatever the reason, Hull KR deserve plenty of credit.

They were spirited in their last meeting and they backed that up, adding some polish - particularly through full-back Adam Quinlan - and a touch of adventure to their attack, as well as being more disciplined.

Wigan struggled to shut down their offloads in the tackle and played out the last 10 minutes with 12-men after Joel Tomkins was sinbinned for dissent.

Wigan triumphed 28-10 on this ground in the Challenge Cup less than two weeks earlier. And having backed that up with an impressive display at the Magic Weekend, they headed into this match on an eight-game winning streak.

Oliver Gildart’s absence due to sickness provided a first appearance of the season for Liam Forsyth, who has struggled for game-time since returning 18 months ago from a spell in union with Bath.

Morgan Escare was at halfback, and with Romain Navarrete getting the nod at prop it meant Wigan had two Frenchmen in their starting line-up - and only one from Down Under.

Even accounting for the absence of Gildart and Thomas Leuluai, who joined Dan Sarginson and Sean O’Loughlin on the sidelines, they were the favourites to get the win which would keep them two points behind Saints.

And early on those predictions looked justified as they took an 8-0 lead. Joel Tomkins touched down a scruffy effort in the eighth minute when James Donaldson failed to deal with George Williams’ drilled kick. Sam Tomkins struck the conversion and added a penalty minutes later.

At that point, they appeared to be in control, enjoying the majority of possession and the better position. But their attack was too sluggish to break down the Robins, and Quinlan cleaned up kicks aimed his way.

Wigan fell away quickly, allowing the Robins to kick a foothold in the match and reply with two tries to give them a 10-8 lead by the break.

Centre Junior Vaivai touched down in the 23rd minute after winning the race to Tommy Lee’s angled kick. Danny Tickle, sent off for punching in the Cup match two weeks earlier, converted to cut the visitors’ lead to two points. And just three minutes later, John Bateman coughed up possession inside his own half - an error compounded by Ryan Sutton’s penalty.

KR decided to run the play and the gamble paid off when Quinlan zipped over.

They would have been further ahead had Sam Tomkins not earlier denied Elliot Wallis in the corner.

Whatever Wane told his players at half-time had no immediate impact. Wigan continued to remained on the ropes and much of it was their own fault. Sutton spilled a carry inside his own half, Ben Flower conceded successive penalties, and their line eventually creaked when Chris Atkin plunged the ball down. Tickle’s try made it 16-8.

With less than half-an-hour to go, that score - briefly - seemed to provide the proverbial rocket the visitors needed. They swept down field and began to test the Robins line, with John Bateman going close but losing the ball as he stretched for the line.

Wigan lost Forsyth to a lower-leg injury suffered in a tackle - a real blow for the youngster, who had made some strong contributions during his reintroduction into the side. Warriors had two solid attacking chances, one which they squandered, another which was defended.

They relapsed, retreating to their own line after Lee’s 40-20 put KR into a solid position. And after Joel Tomkins was yellow-carded, Tickle’s penalty opened up a 10-point gap with as many minutes remaining.

Wigan have pulled off some great escapes this year - Catalans, Leeds - but it was clear this would not be their night even before Vaivai raced away from Greenwood’s offload.

Hull KR: Quinlan; Wallis, Salter, Vaivai, Carney; Dagger, Blair; Johnson, Lee, Greenwood, Tickle, Clarkson, Donaldson. Subs: Masoe, Scruton, Atkin, Kavanagh.

Wigan: S Tomkins; Davies, Bateman, Forsyth, Marshall; Williams, Escare; Navarrete, Powell, Flower, Isa, Farrell, J Tomkins. Subs: Ganson, Clubb, Sutton, Tautai

Referee: Ben Thaler

Half-time: 10-8

Attendance: 7,222

Starman: Liam Farrell