STUNNED Hull KR saw their hopes of a rare win over Wigan Warriors agonisingly disappear with just two seconds remaining in a dramatic finish last night.
Chris Chester, their caretaker head coach, who played with Wigan for three years, had watched on as his side took control with a 14-4 lead against the reigning champions.
But Sean O’Loughlin pulled a try back in the 73rd minute, which Matty Smith goaled, and then, after the spirited but tiring hosts thought they had survived the last of numerous attacks, they switched off for one fatal moment.
Left centre Craig Hall, who had scored the first of Rovers’ three tries, strangely shot out of the defensive line to leave a gaping hole for Wigan to exploit and Josh Charnley duly capitalised.
That levelled what had been a frantic, if error-strewn, affair leaving Smith with a conversion from touch to win it.
However, he missed and a point was the least Chester’s side deserved. They will feel they warranted both although their hopes of reaching the play-offs are still alive. Just.
They are now two points behind eighth-placed Widnes Vikings, who head to Huddersfield on Sunday, with three games to go and on this gutsy performance, clearly, they do not want their season to end early.
The last time Hull KR played Wigan in Super League at Craven Park they endured a record 84-6 defeat and they had lost their previous 13 games with the Cherry and Whites dating back to 2009.
A try from Ben Cockayne in the 57th minute, on the winger’s return from an eight-game absence through injury, looked like ending that record but it was not to be.
Hull KR – who have signed Bradford Bulls loose forward James Donaldson on a two-year deal deal starting next season – endured a terrible start, fumbling in the opening set and allowing Wigan centre Dan Sarginson to capitalise within just 84 seconds. You might have expected the visitors to turn the screw but there was none of the champions’ usual precision and directness.
Perhaps it was understandable given Blake Green, their Australian stand-off who enjoyed a league and cup double last season after joining from Rovers, was playing only his first game back since tearing a bicep at Magic Weekend in May.
Things were going to be a little rusty for the visitors.
That said, his former side were far from slick either.
Much to the annoyance of Rovers’ increasingly agitated fans, they initially wasted three potential opportunities to score in the corner.
Their ire was mainly aimed at Greg Eden, who each time delivered awful passes to leave colleagues with little chance of penetrating.
It was no surprise when Ade Gardner came off his wing to rock Sarginson with a rattling try-saving tackle in the 32nd minute; the Rovers winger had spent most of the half bending his back anyway to try to collect his full-back’s wayward passes.
On loan from St Helens, where, earlier in his career, he had been used to the stellar service of Kangaroos Matt Gidley and Jamie Lyon, you sense Gardner may have taken his frustrations out on the Wigan centre.
It was a crucial tackle, regardless, though the low quality of the encounter was illustrated immediately when, from the resulting scrum, Rovers’ Kevin Larroyer dropped a pass on his own 20m line with no one near.
By that point, the hosts had levelled via Hall, the centre returning from concussion in place of the confidence-drained Kris Welham to score his ninth try of the campaign from Kris Keating’s lofted chip.
He had already gone close twice before, dropping the ball as he surged for the line and then just being denied by Charnley when chasing down a Travis Burns kick.
Charnley had a ‘score’ rightly disallowed by the video referee after that Larroyer error, but Rovers warranted taking the lead three minutes before the break.
Green, showing that lack of timing, was penalised for obstruction and the home side struck, Burns timing his pass to perfection to see on-loan Huddersfield Giants second-row Jason Chan charge over for his second try in four games.
Burns made it 10-4 and then Cockayne stretched that further, benefitting from a quality Eden pass after the excellent Chan had latched on to another Wigan error and raced 50m.
It would not be enough, though, and Wigan – who have suffered misery in Yorkshire this year losing at Bradford, Castleford, Leeds, Huddersfield and Wakefield – came back with that desperate last push.
Hull KR: Eden; Gardner, Salter, Hall, Cockayne; Burns, Keating; Walker, J Hodgson, Netherton, Chan, Horne, Costigan. Substitutes: Carlile, Cox, Green, Larroyer.
Wigan Warriors: Bowen; Charnley, Gelling, Sarginson, Manfredi; Green, Smith; Powell; Crosby, Powell, Flower, J Tomkins, L Farrell, O’Loughlin. Substitutes: Taylor, Hughes, Pettybourne, Williams.
Referee: R Silverwood (Mirfield).