LUCKLESS Hull KR head coach Tim Sheens seems to be fighting one fire after another.
His under-strength side produced a fine display yesterday, ignoring the fact they were down to 12 men for most of the game to give Wigan Warriors a real fright in the Ladbrokes Challenge Cup.
Despite having Danny Tickle red-carded for punching England second-row John Bateman on the stroke of half-time, they were level 10-10 on the hour mark having caused their star-studded opponents real problems.
Wigan needed Sam Tomkins to step up and show his class in the closing stages to finally secure the game and deny the East Yorkshire club a quarter-final spot.
However, the defeat came at a far greater cost for Rovers with Robbie Mulhern, the talented 23-year-old who has been one of Super League’s best props this term, taken off with a serious knee injury in the 71st minute.
“It looks like an ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) which will end his season,” said Sheens, a bitter blow for Rovers’ hopes of pulling out of the bottom four.
“I’d say overall he’s been our best forward all year so it is a big loss for us and him, too.
“I think he was being considered for the (England) Knights tour at the end of the year; the coach had rung me.
“In saying that he’s got a scan yet so you never know. I’m hoping my physio is wrong even though he’s not wrong very often.”
Sheens also lost James Greenwood to a concussion that rules him out of Sunday’s Magic Weekend derby against Hull FC and prop Mase Masoe who suffered an ankle problem although that should be fine for Newcastle.
The coach is likely to find out today whether Tickle, the 35-year-old who was a Challenge Cup finalist with Wigan in 2004, will be available although he, of course, will expect a suspension.
Tickle had tackled Bateman when the flare-up ensued. The Wigan player was yellow-carded for his involvement yet Rovers still got the penalty.
Sheens added: “I’m waiting on the charge sheet as he was charged with retaliation so obviously he was defending himself.
“I’m hoping the charge won’t be a savage one rather than being the aggressor. He got punched and he punched back but then there’s been some talk of a headbutt. I don’t know.
I’d say overall he’s been our best forward all year so it is a big loss for us and him, too.Tim Sheens
“To get the penalty off it and lose someone to a red card hurts doesn’t it? I think the ref’s saying Bateman didn’t punch initially but I’ve not seen the video yet so I’ll comment when I do.”
It was a shame for Rovers who, despite being depleted, had competed hard in the first half and trailed just 10-4.
Indeed, even when down to 12 men, they continued with an excellent performance, full of character, spirit and purpose, belying their lowly position in Super League.
Rovers had already played 10 minutes of the first period down to 12 men. Full-back Adam Quinlan – otherwise superb – was yellow-carded for preventing Wigan taking a quick 20m restart.
But Sheens’s side rallied and, after a period of sustained pressure, saw powerful Junior Vaivai get over in the 50th minute following Greenwood’s great work.
Ryan Shaw missed the conversion attempt but, even with Wigan back up to 13, Rovers continued to press hard and drew level with Shaw’s 57th-minute penalty. However, five minutes later Tomkins – whose 40/20 led to position for Josh Woods’s opening try – came into the line to evade an onrushing Vaivai and then dummy over his way over.
He converted his own try and added a penalty to give his side some much-needed relief heading into the final quarter.
Still, Quinlan almost got them right back in it with a trademark darting run only for Willie Isa to just to hold onto the Australian as he approached the goalline.
It was a critical point as, moments later, Wigan went up the other way to confirm victory with Tony Clubb’s 74th-minute try, Tomkins improving.
Tom Davies went over for their fifth and final try at the death.
Sheens gave a debut to City of Hull Academy winger Elliot Wallis, who only turned 18 on Thursday but produced a confident display.
Quinlan showed lovely hands on the last tackle when setting up Chris Atkin’s 21st-minute try, Rovers having already shown their mettle by defending three successive sets on their own line, Maurice Blair forcing an error from Tomkins. However, Tickle spilled in the restart set to gift a chance for Liam Marshall to score, Shaw rushing in too early from the wing to be exposed by Joel Tomkins.
They did well to keep their line intact when Quinlan was off, but then the red mist descended on Tickle.
Hull KR: Quinlan; Shaw, Salter, Vaivai, Wallis; Lee, Blair; Mulhern, Atkin, Johnson, Tickle, Greenwood, Cator. Substitutes: Masoe, Donaldson, Walne, Marsh.
Wigan Warriors: S Tomkins; Davies, Sarginson, Gildart, Marshall; Woods, Powell; Clubb, Leuluai, Flower, Bateman, Farrell, O’Loughlin. Substitutes: Isa, Sutton, J Tomkins, Tautai.
Referee: Chris Kendall (Huddersfield)