WIGAN’S dream of a Wembley return collapsed in agonising fashion.
The Warriors looked to be on course for a quarter-final spot after Joe Burgess’ late try had nudged them 12-10 ahead.
But when Dan Sarginson spilled bringing a drive back from a scrum, Ken Sio scooped up the loose ball and powered over the line for the decisive try.
Josh Mantellato’s conversion wedged a four-point gap between the sides and - in a frantic final five minutes - Wigan were unable to conjure a try which would have levelled the scores and sent the Sky-televised match into golden-point.
The result was a crushing blow for the Warriors.
Having been dumped out of the competition by underdog opposition a year ago, Shaun Wane and his charges had put a huge emphasis on a successful run in the competition with which they are synonymous.
Yet while they ran into a determined and, at times, dangerous outfit at Leigh Sports Village, Wigan will lament their own mistakes.
The scores were locked 6-6 at the break, and the game remained on a knife-edge throughout a second-half which produced as many spills as thrills. Wigan struggled to carve out chances, the ball rarely reached the wings, and too many players were guilty of making basic errors which drained their energy reserves.
It was only after Burgess had squeezed over in the corner that fans thought they could breath a sigh of relief - but the Robins, and Sio, had other ideas.
Wigan had made the DW Stadium into something of a fortress over the past 12 months, and the big question was whether switching the game to Leigh Sports Village - due to pitch maintenance work - would deny them an advantage.
Certainly, the compact ground generated a noisy atmosphere and Wigan fans - and officials - did their best to create a homely atmosphere. Manchester United’s Phil Jones watched on, sat behind injured Warriors Ben Flower, Tony Clubb and Dom Manfredi in the main-stand.
The Warriors had eased past the same opponents by 60-0 just two weeks earlier, but - with a place in the quarter-finals at stake and key player Terry Campese restored to Robins’ line-up - few expected it to be so one-sided.
Josh Charnley made his first appearance in two months in a strong and largely settled line-up, and quickly got back up to speed in an early spell in which the Warriors bombarded KR’s line.
Indeed, three repeat-sets on the Robins’ line hinted at a breakthrough which never came. Their best chance fell in the 8th minute when Dom Crosby barged over, but video referees Ian Smith and James Child spotted a knock-on by Ryan Hampshire in the build-up.
It was a pity for Crosby, who had scored Wigan’s first tries in two of their past three games. And it was a pity for the team, too, as the momentum of the game unexpectedly seesawed into KR’s favour.
After Matty Smith had booted a 13th minute penalty, errors leaked into their display, and the Robins - having absorbed so much pressure - countered as Blair went over on their right flank; the first points Wigan had conceded in 214 minutes of action.
Josh Mantellato’s assured conversion put them 6-2 ahead.
Robins were growing in confidence with every mistake Wigan made - Smith and Hampshire were the chief culprits - and it needed a desperate and determined defensive effort to prevent KR from building on their lead.
Charnley bopped James Donaldson off on a charging run to help his side gain a foothold, but after play had swept downfield, Mantellato intercepted O’Loughlin’s looping pass to his right winger to defuse the attack.
Fortunately, the errors were contagious, and after KR had coughed up possession under heavy traffic, it provided the opportunity for Warriors to lock the scores as they stacked the left flank and Tomkins forced his way between two defenders.
Smith missed his tricky conversion attempt.
With minutes to go they had a chance to retake the lead but Tomkins punted the ball behind a stretched defence, when he may have been better served keeping it in the hands, and the chance was closed.
Wane’s half-time instructions appeared to make little impact early in the second-half.
Hampshire looked flaky at the back, and his spill was followed by another from an otherwise impressive Tautai - errors which were compounded by a Mantellato penalty.
Falling behind on the scoreboard seemed to amp up Wigan’s level of urgency, a blistering passage down the middle finishing with a Smith penalty when John Bateman’s play-the-ball was impeded.
The thrills, spills - and penalties - continued at apace, and after Williams scrambled to prevent Sio angling over, Mantellato’s boot nudged his side 8-6 ahead as the game inched towards the final quarter.
Wigan were again invited back into the match when Ben Cockayne shoved Bateman in a tackle, but Smith’s penalty was off target. The halfback had another chance to level the scores when he was felled off-the-ball by Jordan Cox, but Wigan opted to tap the penalty.
And the decision appeared to pay off as Burgess - who scored a hat-trick in their last meeting - managed to squeeze over in the corner from McIlorum’s dummy-half pass. Smith missed the conversion attempt, but Wigan held the lead with 15 minutes to go.
They won another penalty close to KR’s line, but Crosby was adjudged to have spilled the ball in the tackle, and not only did the golden opportunity slipped from their grasp - and minutes later the Robins pounced for the match-winning try.
Further chances collapsed, and the sight of a bloodied Liam Farrell being led down the tunnel with two minutes remaining compounded their disappointment.
Wigan: Hampshire; Charnley, Tomkins, Sarginson, Burgess; Williams, Smith; Crosby, McIlorum, Mossop, Farrell, Bateman, O’Loughlin. Subs: Powell, Tautai, Patrick, Sutton.
Hull KR: Cockayne; Mantellato, Welham, Sio, Dixon; Blair, Campese; Green, Boudebza, Tilse, Larroyer, Horne, McCarthy. Subs: Cox, Donaldson, Ollett, Esslemont.
Referee: Richard Silverwood