Wigan Warriors 12 Hull KR 16
Jonathan Doidge for League Weekly at Leigh Sports Village
As comebacks go, this was right up there with most that spring to mind. Defeated 60-0 in Super League just a fortnight earlier, Hull KR showed incredible pride, guts and no little determination to win a see-sawing contest by virtue of Ken Sio’s try eight minutes from the hooter.
It was only Rovers’ second win over this opposition in the history of this great competition and supporters will hope that the omens are good, for that sole previous success came in 1980, when they went on to lift the trophy for the only time.
Meanwhile, 19-time winners Wigan were left to rue some uncharacteristically sloppy errors that cost them any chance of momentum in a game that was far more memorable for defensive endeavour and an endless supply of penalties than it was for fluent rugby league.
Terry Campese carried off the sponsors’ man of the match award for controlling all the good stuff produced by his team, while Maurice Blair was superb and, in his first Challenge Cup game, Dane Tilse stood out for much more than simply his skyscraping stature.
Rovers were far from error-free themselves, but with that recent humiliation still all too vivid in the minds of those who played that night, there was a collective will to win this game that the Warriors never quite matched. And for Robins fans, who were not asked to pay for their tickets as a gesture by the club following that embarrassment, it appears that the best things in life really are free.
“What a difference a couple of weeks makes,” reflected KR coach Chris Chester. “We were obviously humiliated last time. We put that down to a blip and spoke about how it can never happen again.
“I’m really proud of the effort, desire and commitment. At times we were under the pump but we found a way to get to the other end and win the game.
“It’s a special victory. A lot of people had written us off but my guys thrive on that.
“The defensive effort was outstanding from minute one to minute 80.
“I thought we really fronted up. We were aggressive and we needed to be. I thought we frustrated them. We came up with a defensive plan that (assistant coach) Willie Poching put in place.”
Warriors counterpart Shaun Wane admitted to being “Devastated” that his team will sit out the rest of the competition.
“It’s really disappointing,” he said. “It’s something I hold dearly and so do players but obviously not dearly enough.
“They came with a game plan to make the ruck really slow and messy and they got away with it. Fair play to them, they were the best team.
“We gave too many penalties away and got burned in the end.
“We had lots of chances to put that game away and we didn’t take them.”
Hull KR started without influential half-back Albert Kelly, who missed due to hamstring trouble, so Campese and Blair were named as the pivots and it proved to be a very effective partnership. The latter, in fact, showed great strength to come up with the game’s first try, just three minutes after Matty Smith had given Wigan the lead with a penalty.
Blair made the most of the situation when Burgess shot out of the Warriors’ defensive line, taking Cockayne’s offload to power over in the corner despite the attentions of three defenders.
Boudebza’s superb tackle – one of 35 that he made in the first-half alone – rocked the ball free from Hampshire on a Wigan exit run, allowing Cockayne to go close and, although they failed to capitalise, the Robins turned around a lengthy period of early pressure and put it firmly back on the home side.
Campese’s kicking game always had his team interested, while the Rovers defence was both uncompromising, Kevin Larroyer epitomising that, and occasionally illegal, such as when Dixon went high on Hampshire.
The latter resulted in a penalty that led to Joel Tomkins levelling the scores with his sixth try of the season, and his first in the Challenge Cup since that wonderful Wembley effort of his against Leeds when the Warriors lifted the trophy in 2011. The centre took a beautifully-timed Williams pass to cross, though Smith could not add the extras.
A penalty to the visitors right on half-time might well have returned them to the lead, though Mantellato could not draw the ball enough to get it between the posts and the game was nicely balanced at the break.
Wigan made more than their fair share of howlers, relinquishing possession too often for coach Wane’s liking, including when Burgess failed to reel in a pass on attack and then Hampshire spilled Campese’s bomb at the end of Hull KR’s next set.
Even after Welham’s spill had failed to make them pay, the Warriors again invited their opponents on when Tautai coughed it up in his own 30-metre area. Powell’s dangerous tackle on Tilse moments later indicated the frustration in the home ranks, and Mantellato slotted over the penalty to put Rovers back in front. They didn’t stay there for long as Smith soon restored parity with a 26-metre penalty goal of his own.
O’Loughlin’s shoulder charge on Green, and then Tautai being pinged for offside, were further penalties for Chester’s men and the latter again saw Mantellato tip the scales in the Robins’ favour.
They were, however, lucky to survive a missed shot at goal by Smith a couple of minutes later, when Cockayne had been penalised for a shove on Bateman at the play-the-ball.
The fact that Rovers were both in possession and holding the lead at the time underlined the tension on the field and, although they didn’t score immediately, the ‘home’ side were soon in pole position once more. This time Campese was penalised for handling the ball in an offside position. Wigan shipped the ball left and a quick play-the-ball by Tomkins enabled McIlorum to send Burgess barging over in the left-hand corner.
On most other evenings that would be that, but the home side couldn’t seem to find a way to put out the fire in the bellies of the East Yorkshire outfit, nor quell their passion for seeing this through. The Warriors’ error count continued to mount and it was an enforced one, when Blair hit Sarginson with another technically superb tackle, that was ultimately to cost them a continued place in the competition.
England international Sarginson flopped like a rag doll, the ball was jolted free, and Sio was on hand to pick up the scraps and show great strength to hold off a defender to score.
Tomkins went close to putting the game into golden point mode in the dying moments, but the Robins would not be denied. On this evidence their quest for a second Challenge Cup will keep bobbing along for some time.
20 Ryan Hampshire 5
2 Josh Charnley 6
11 Joel Tomkins 6
4 Dan Sarginson 5
5 Joe Burgess 6
6 George Williams 6
7 Matty Smith 6
8 Dom Crosby 6
9 Michael McIlorum 6
23 Lee Mossop 6
12 Liam Farrell 6
14 John Bateman 6
13 Sean O’Loughlin 6
16 Sam Powell 6
24 Taulima Tautai 6
25 Larne Patrick 5
28 Ryan Sutton 5
Tries: Tomkins (37) Burgess (64)
Goals: Smith 2/5
2 Ben Cockayne 7
4 Josh Mantellato 7
19 Kris Welham 6
5 Ken Sio 7
1 Kieran Dixon 6
6 Maurice Blair 8
23 Terry Campese 8
20 James Green 6
24 John Boudebza 8
32 Dane Tilse 8
11 Kevin Larroyer 7
12 Graeme Horne 7
13 Tyrone McCarthy 7
Subs (all used)
22 Jordan Cox 7
15 James Donaldson 7
21 Aaron Ollett 6
26 Sonny Esslemont 6
Tries: Blair (19), Sio (72)
Goal: Mantellato 4/5
Referee: Richard Silverwood
Man of the Match: Terry Campese – Orchestrator of an amazing turnaround
Weather: Mild, wet.
Sin Bin: N/A
Sent Off: N/A
Match rating: 3/5