REFEREE Phil Bentham was carried off in agony last night inhaling from an oxygen mask after bizarrely breaking his ankle in a collision with Hull KR’s Shannon McDonnell.
To say the full-back’s challenge on the unsuspecting official was Rovers’ only dominant tackle up to that point of the game would be stretching things slightly.
However, it hints at the defensive debacle that had engulfed Craig Sandercock’s side early on as their frustratingly inconsistent Super League campaign continued.
Bentham fell clutching his foot just as Lee Mossop was cruising over untouched between the posts for Wigan’s third try – they finished with seven and moved top ahead of Huddersfield Giants who play tonight – in the 18th minute.
Like any good full-back, McDonnell was desperately trying to cover ground to deny the prop but only managed to barge into the luckless Warrington official.
The game was held up for six minutes as Bentham received lengthy treatment and he was afforded a standing ovation – surely a first – by the crowd before being taken to the town’s hospital.
Touch judge Robert Hicks took over in the middle with reserve referee Andrew Smith assuming line duty but it did not, immediately, alter the manner of Rovers’ performance.
They quickly conceded back-to-back tries to be trailing 26-0 inside only 24 minutes, a mixture of ill-discipline, shoddy defence and some exemplary Wigan handling leaving them chasing shadows.
They briefly rallied before the break when Michael Dobson’s disguised pass saw Ben Galea storm through to score and McDonnell was also just denied by Thomas Leuluai’s flailing hand after Blake Green had fashioned a rare chink in Wigan’s defence.
They also scored late tries through Josh Hodgson and Kris Welham after determinedly digging deep but Josh Charnley, the winger who cut his teeth during a loan spell with Rovers in 2010 and is now looking international class, had already completed his hat-trick just 54 seconds into the second period to stave off any hope of an astonishing comeback.
David Hodgson was denied by the excellent Brett Finch after Green’s clever reverse kick but McDonnell did score in the 53rd minute after scampering past Sean O’Loughlin and stretching out of Leuluai’s tackle.
By the letter of the law, it looked like double-movement but video referee Steve Ganson showed common sense and ruled momentum had taken him over. Maybe the rulemakers should follow his lead in 2013.
A dancing Anthony Gelling grabbed his second try, though, having also shown a neat goose-step to finish one of many slick first-half handling movements.
During that initial purple patch, Wigan were almost playing at a stroll as lacklustre Rovers continually stood off.
Any hope that they would have benefited from last weekend’s rest due to being out of the Challenge Cup was quickly extinguished.
Instead effortless Wigan, who had come up against a physical Featherstone Rovers in the fifth round, were afforded ample room to deliver all their usual tricks.
Sam Tomkins scored a wonderful try after crabbing across Rovers’ 30m line before straightening up but he really should not have been able to deceive Scott Taylor, Dobson and England colleague Welham along the way. Gareth Hock had already twice swatted aside Green to set up position.
A flicked pass from O’Loughlin had been the catalyst to Charnley’s fifth-minute opener with David Hodgson’s slip providing the opening for his second from distance which left it at 26-0 and saw Dobson issuing a full-blooded team talk behind the posts.
On the plus side for Rovers, Ryan O’Hara did finally make his debut, the Australian prop signed from Crusaders during the winter who has been sidelined since after suffering an injury in pre-season.
Then came their final flourish, a sign of what can be done when they control possession.
A run by Liam Watts and the loose forward’s offload under pressure created a try for Josh Hodgson with 10 minutes remaining and, soon after, Welham added another when Tomkins made a hash of Green’s flighted kick.
Dobson converted both to send the visiting fans home with some cheer but they remain ninth after failing to secure a third successive Super League win. It rounded off a difficult day for Wigan who had become embroiled in a bitter war of words with the Rugby Football League over the staging of their Cup quarter-final against St Helens next week.
As tenants of Wigan Athletic football club, who have a crucial match here the following afternoon, the holders were embarrassingly in danger of being unable to host the televised contest as part of Premier League rules but an agreement has now been reached following some heated public discussion.
Wigan: Tomkins; Charnley, Goulding, Carmont, Gelling; Finch, Leuluai; Lauaki, McIlorum, Mossop, Hansen, Hock, O’Loughlin. Substitutes: Lima, Farrell, Tuson, Hughes.
Hull KR: McDonnell; Hall, Salter, Welham, D Hodgson; Green, Dobson; Paea, Withers, Taylor, Mika, Galea, Watts. Substitutes: O’Hara, Clinton, Lovegrove, J Hodgson.
Referee: P Bentham (Warrington).