WHAT a Diff’rence A Fortnight Makes doesn’t quite have the same ring as Dinah Washington’s famous 1959 hit referring to a day.
However, it would certainly illustrate Hull KR’s superb performance to stun Wigan Warriors in the Challenge Cup last night.
They were utterly unrecognisable to the side that were embarrassed 60-0 by pretty much the same team just two weeks earlier.
Ken Sio’s 72nd-minute try, after an awful error from Wigan’s England centre Dan Sarginson, was ultimately the difference, though Ben Cockayne, Rovers’ full-back, produced a brilliant try-saving tackle on Joel Tomkins with barely a couple of minutes remaining to make sure they are in tomorrow’s quarter-final draw.
It was the least Chris Chester’s heroic team deserved as they picked the perfect time to deliver their first win outside of Hull this season, but also restore pride, spirit and point towards a brighter future by leaving the most famous club in the competition’s history on their knees.
In that earlier Super League game, dire Rovers had been 28-0 behind inside the opening 15 minutes as their defence refused to appear.
Last night, though, the manner in which they fought and scrapped to protect their line in the first five minutes as Wigan, with three consecutive sets, battered away, instantly demonstrated they were ready to atone.
Indeed, they were level 6-6 at the break – 34-0 previously – and could have been ahead if Josh Mantellato had not missed a penalty on the hooter.
But Wigan, the 2013 cup winners, had become increasingly frustrated, riled and sloppy as they struggled to break down their visitors from East Yorkshire.
It was perhaps no surprise; their opponents, led by the tenacious Tyrone McCarthy and robust Dane Tilse, were like terriers snapping away in defence, always willing to make life uncomfortable.
It got to the stage that even Sean O’Loughlin, the usually nerveless England captain, was sending out panicked passes only to duly be snaffled up by Mantellato or, more commonly, hitting the ground with no Wigan player in sight.
Given Rovers’ new-found energy and resolve, it had been no surprise when Warriors’ Matty Smith opted to kick a penalty to open the scoring in the 13th minute rather than waste more effort trying to break them down.
Then, with their first real foray after a mountain of defensive graft, Rovers actually took the lead in the 19th minute through a brilliantly worked try for Maurice Blair, the Australian second-row switched to scrum-half after in-form Albert Kelly pulled out with a hamstring problem.
Terry Campese switched the point of attack, Cockayne found an off-load and Blair shrugged off Sarginson to surge and carry more defenders over with him.
Mantellato who, like Campese, Kevin Larroyer and Tilse, had been sidelined for that first meeting, converted the score and Wigan’s slide into uncertainty began.
Shaun Wane’s side only emerged from it courtesy of a foolish penalty from Kieran Dixon, the excitable winger who caught Ryan Hampshire high with a wild swinging arm when there was plenty of cover, and from there Tomkins bustled over. But it had taken 36 minutes.
Smith could not improve and his side’s steadiness did not improve in the second period.
Hampshire dropped another high kick and, though Kris Welham wasted the chance, Wigan immediately handed possession back when Taulima Tautai, the otherwise marauding former Wakefield forward, fumbled inexplicably at the play-the-ball.
Mantellato put them ahead in the 48th minute after an alleged “cannonball” tackle from George Williams and, though Smith levelled with another penalty, Rovers would not buckle.
Mantellato slotted another from in front of the posts in the 58th minute, Smith skewed a simple one, but Wigan thought they had taken the decisive action when, after Jordan Cox’s needless late tackle on Smith, they squeezed Joe Burgess over in the corner with 13 minutes to go.
However, then came Sarginson’s gaffe as he spilled when running the ball out from a scrum in front of his posts for Sio to pick up and score the 11th and easiest try of his Rovers career.
Tomkins thought he had scored but the video officials rightly ruled his foot had brushed the touchline.
Rovers had stayed in a hotel Thursday night in a bid to end their away day blues. The board’s willingness to finance that paid immediate dividends as they reached the last eight for the first time since 2011. Also, the last time they beat Wigan in the Challenge Cup was 1980 – and everyone knows what happened that year. Next up? A trip to Super League leaders Leeds Rhinos on Friday. They will fancy that now, too.
Wigan Warriors: Hampshire; Charnley, J Tomkins, Sarginson, Burgess; Williams, Smith; Crosby, McIlorum, Mossop, L Farrell, Bateman, O’Loughlin. Substitutes: Powell, Tautai, Patrick, Sutton.
Hull KR: Cockayne; Dixon, Sio, Welham, Mantellato; Campese, Blair; Green, Boudebza, Tilse, Larroyer, Horne, McCarthy. Substitutes: Cox, Donaldson, Ollett, Esslemont.
Referee: R Silverwood (Mirfield).