However, it was his try-scoring prowess that finally settled an absorbing tie between a pair of other fierce rivals on Saturday.
The former Great Britain winger, who has been excellent for Hull KR since moving from Saints on loan in March, scored twice in the second half at Manchester as they eventually saw off 12-man Hull FC.
Most people expected the Airlie Birds to crumble once Jason Crookes, their England Knights winger, was red-carded for a high tackle on Liam Salter in the 50th minute, especially when Gardner stretched that lead moments later with the first of his brace.
However, Danny Houghton and Iafeta Palea’aesina struck back with tries in swift fashion and the tension rose. It was not until Gardner glided over again eight minutes from time that Rovers could finally settle safe in the knowledge they had won a second derby of the year.
Josh Hodgson, brilliant at hooker for Rovers, rounded things off at the end with another try as Hull – who were 18-0 down inside 22 minutes – endured a third successive loss that leaves coach Lee Radford under increasing pressure.
For Gardner, it was another impressive performance as the 30-year-old, who has lost his place at St Helens due to the stellar form of young wingers Tommy Makinson and Adam Swift, continued his own personal resurgence.
Having amassed 167 tries in 281 games for Saints since debuting in 2002, lifting the Super League title and Challenge Cup along the way, it could have been easy for the Cumbrian to take umbrage with the decision by Nathan Brown to leave him out.
But Gardner is renowned for his willingness to work and graft. Indeed, Hull KR coach Craig Sandercock said after this game that the tall winger was the most professional player he had ever worked with, which obviously includes his time as an assistant at both Newcastle Knights and Manly Sea Eagles.
“It is difficult (not playing at Saints) but obviously the boys are playing well and winning well too,” said Gardner. “I don’t want to spend the rest of my career in the Championship – no offence to that competition – on dual-reg so I was pleased Hull KR gave me this opportunity. It’s a fantastic club and I’m privileged to have played in this derby.
“Personally, I feel I’ve still got something left in the tank and 30 is not that old nowadays with sport science and everything.
“I pride myself on being a worker who works hard and does the right thing consistently so I’m always in the best shape possible.
“There’s some freaks I’ve played with like Jamie Lyon and Matt Gidley who could probably go out five or six nights a week and still get man-of-the-match but I’m not blessed with their ability!”
Gardner is on a season-long loan with the East Yorkshire club but is under contract at St Helens in 2015, too, and admits he is not sure what the future holds.
“I’m just taking it each week and seeing what happens,” he added.
“It’s all out of my hands at the moment but I’ve really enjoyed it at Rovers – it’s an ideal place for me – and hopefully I can help the boys get in the top eight.
“That opening spell today was probably the best we’ve played all season but we then went away from things and credit to Hull for coming back at us.
“It was a great win, though, and now we have to learn to play for 80 minutes. There’s plenty of ability and talent in this side but the teams I’ve played in that have won trophies have always played for the full 80.”
Sandercock’s side had looked in excellent form when building up that early advantage.
Centre Salter crossed after he latched onto Ben Cockayne’s pass in the 10th minute and they were in again when Hodgson ushered Kevin Larroyer over.
Salter quickly added his second after Kris Keating exposed some woefully brittle Hull defence following Hodgson’s midfield dart and Travis Burns improved all three efforts.
However, their rivals responded before the break via Dean Hadley and Jamie Shaul tries, Jacob Miller converting both to narrow the lead to just six points.
Burns added a penalty early in the second period and then converted Gardner’s first try in the set after Crookes’s dismissal before Hull threatened that second revival by getting back to 26-24.
But Gardner’s second, a well-worked effort finished in typical style in the corner, relieved all the pressure and it was Rovers, who host bottom-placed London Broncos on Sunday, who claimed the honours in the 222nd derby and won for the first time in four games.
Hull KR: Cockayne, Gardner, Welham, Salter, D. Hodgson, Burns, Keating, Netherton, J. Hodgson, Weyman, Larroyer, Horne, Costigan. Substitutes: A. Walker, Green, Lovegrove, Langley.
Hull: Shaul, Crookes, Talanoa, Yeaman, Colbon, Rankin, Miller, Paea, Houghton, Watts, Ellis, Hadley, Westerman. Substitutes: Heremaia, Paleaaesina, Bowden, Carvell.
Referee: R Silverwood (RFL).