Hull KR 34 Wigan Warriors 18: Brilliant Robins stun leaders to end long losing run

WITH arguably one of the club’s finest performances in recent history, bottom-placed Hull KR tonight produced a remarkable victory that both stunned and exhausted Super League leaders Wigan Warriors in equal measure.

Hull KR's Elliot Minchella goes in for his first try (PIC: JONATHAN GAWTHORPE)

Tony Smith’s side had not won in the competition since defeating Wakefield Trinity, back on January 31, the opening night of their season.

They lost their next seven but, throughout that period - and since returning from lockdown last month - there were plenty of positive signs for him, not least his squad’s character and determination when it comes to defensive effort.

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That was there in abundance here as, at times, they had to produce lung-busting efforts to deny their star-studded opponents, especially when captain Shaun Kenny-Dowall was sin-binned late on.

Hull KR's Dean Hadley scores after another assist from Jordan Abdull (PIC: JONATHAN GAWTHORPE)

However, it was on attack where Rovers also finally got things right with some exhilarating play that was like a breath of fresh air for Super League.

With only a four-day turnaround since losing to champions St Helens on Sunday, battered, bruised and a season-ending injury for their most dangerous player, few could have expected this sort of result.

However, all the changes that Smith made paid off, not least the recall of Jordan Abdull who delivered a half-back masterclass that made Wigan’s reigning Man of Steel Jackson Hastings look merely adequate.

Jez Litten was outstanding at hooker, young scrum-half Mikey Lewis showed why he is rated so highly by everyone at the East Yorkshire club and marauding centre Kane Linnett looked like the NRL Grand Final winner he is, delivering his best display since joining from North Queensland Cowboys at the end of 2018.

Hull KR's Greg Minikin claims his hat-trick try for Hull KR. (PIC: JONATHAN GAWTHORPE)

Winger Greg Minikin scored a hat-trick and Elliot Minchella, one of many players plucked from Championship Bradford Bulls, also excelled at loose forward, scoring two tries as Rovers took a 22-12 interval lead.

But this win is credit to Smith’s ethos; it is well-known he encourages his sides to promote the ball from any area on the pitch and the former England head coach is not simply obsessed with players hitting the ground and getting quick play-the-balls.

Getting the right balance, of course, is crucial and, whereas at other times this term they have been too erratic with their handling, here, largely their bold decisions were executed well and paid off.

At times, disorientated Wigan looked like the side stuck at the bottom of Super League, unable to keep pace with the different array of red and white attacks coming their way.

But Smith gives his side confidence. Minkin was a perfect example; he fumbled a routine kick early on and also delivered a forward pass yet,rather than go into his shell, the winger still had enough confidence to try an offload on his own 20m line.

It came off and set in motion a set that led to KR’s first try, Litten making the break down the middle with a rapier thrust that saw Minchella support and cross.

It also began a purple patch of three tries in just six minutes that clearly warned Wigan they were serious.

Linnet produced his first piece assist to get Minikin over the line before Abdull made a silky half-break and an equally classy flicked pass to send Minchella in for his second.

Lewis added his second conversion but Wigan quickly replied when Litten threw a forward pass inside his own half trying to engineer a blindside move.

Harry Smith eventually benefitted - although Rovers defenders complained at being blocked - in the build-up and Zak Hardaker slotted his second conversion to leave Wign 16-12 behind in the 26th minute.

From there, the story is familiar; the Robins continue to battle and press but eventually, as mistakes increase, they tire and fall away, another valiant effort in vain.

Not tonight. Summing up their attitude, Litten - the hooker who is constantly targeted given his diminutive frame - produced a fearsome hit under the ribs of a stunned Mitch Clark, dislodging the ball from the imposing former Junior Kiwis prop.

Soon after, with the last play of the half, an increasingly confident Abdull opted to run on the last tackle, Linnett sucking in defenders before returning the ball to his playmaker who, in turn, fed Minkin for his second try.

With Lewis nursing a leg injury, Will Dagger took over kicking duties and duly converted the touchline effort.

If Rovers fans thought that would be as good as it got, they were wrong again.

Their side added a fifth try within three minutes of the restart to dent any early hopes Wigan might have had of quickly eating away at their lead.

Typically, Abdull was the instigator, his well-weighted high kick being palmed down back to him by his partner-in-crime Linnett, Abdull sending Dean Hadley over for Dagger to improve.

Linnett was the force again with a splendid move to immediately get Minikin in for his treble and, though Wigan began to press, they were held out until Hastings benefitted from Kenny-Dowall’s yellow card in the 71st minute.

Abdull’s penalty soon ended hopes of a late flourish. This was Rovers’ night.

Hull KR: Dagger; Ryan, Kenny-Dowall, Linnett, Minikin; Abdull, Lewis; Hauraki, Litten, Lawler, Hadley, Storton, Minchella. Substitutes: Keyes, Murray, Peteru, Livett.

Wigan Warriors: French; Manfredi, Hardaker, Gildart, Bibby; Hastings, Smith; Flower, Powell, Byrne, Isa, Farrell, Partington. Substitutes: Bourouh, Greenwood, Shorrocks, Clark.

Referee: Tom Grant (Leeds)

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Thank you

James Mitchinson