Wigan Warriors rode a powerful first half performance into the playoff semi-finals clinging on despite a strong second half recovery by the Rovers that threatened to overhaul Wigan’s 18-0 half time lead.
Odds are, the Warriors will face a short trip to rivals St Helens in that game as Leeds to opt to take on the Catalans Dragons in what is rapidly becoming “Hobson’s Choice”.
The Rovers got the perfect start to the second half, Kirk Welham scoring in the left corner after long passes from Michael Dobson and Paul Cooke created the space.
Rovers’ kept their new found tempo going too, Peter Fox diving in at the same left corner after quick hands swept the ball across field following Iafetta Paleaasina’s fumble. Dobson’s touchline conversion signalled game-on again as they edged closed at 10-18.
As Wigan’s error rate mounted, their increasing indiscipline fuelled the Rovers’ recovery. Another penalty gave the Rovers position inside the 20. And Chaz I’Anson stretched out of Richards despairing tackle to score at right centre, just grounding the ball on the line. Dobson’s goal closed the gap to 2-points with the final quarter to play.
But Pat Richards helped steady Wigan’s ship when he drilled a long penalty into the corner after Scott Murrell was penalised on half way for interference. It was all the platform the Warriors needed. Martin Gleeson forced his way over for the try off Paul Prescott’s short pass and Richards’ conversion gave them a 24-16 lead.
Gleeson finished off the Rovers when he crossed in the closing minutes, with Richards’ conversion sealing a 30-16 win and putting the Warriors eighty minutes away from their first Grand Final appearance since 2003.
Wigan had powered into an 18-0 half time lead as they overwhelmed a below-par Hull KR outfit with probably their best showing of the season.
Dobson missed with an early penalty attempt and then picked-up an ankle injury that was to dog his performance all through the game.
But Wigan drew first blood behind the youthful exuberance of half back, Sam Tomkins, who followed up his own kick to trap Fox and drive him back in-goal to force the line drop out. Four tackles and a tap penalty later George Carmont was galloping through left centre, past the limping Dobson, to touch down.
Richards failed to convert, but added a penalty, after Vella’s high tackle on Phelps, to edge the visitors 6 points clear.
Tomkins belted a 40/20 kick to give the Warriors another chance to attack from close range, but he showed his dark side when penalised for crossing, slamming the ball down in a display of petulance.
With Wigan well in control and Rovers reeling, Paleaasina was halted on the line by Shaun Briscoe, Dobson and Rhys Lovegrove as he barrelled onto a short pass from Sean O’Loughlin. But that only delayed him by a minute or so. Wigan picked-up a penalty 10 metres out and Paleaasina repeated the trick to pick up the try. Richards extended the lead to 12-0.
Although Richards missed with a 53-metre penalty attempt, he added try when he popped-up on the end of a sweeping move from the Warriors taking O’Loughlin’s long pass to crash in at the left corner. Richards converted to seal the 18-0 half time lead.
Hull KR: 1 Brisco, 2 Fox, 4 Webster, Welham, 5 Colbon, 6 Cooke, 7 Dobson, 8 Fozzard, 15 Fitzhenry, 20 Vella, 11 Newton, 12 Galea, 13 Murrell
Subs: 18 Wheeldon, 16 Netherton, 21 I’Anson, 24 Lovegrove
T: Welham (42), Fox (55), I’Hanson (61)
G: Dobson 2/4
Wigan Warriors: 21 Phelps, 2 Roberts, Gleeson, 4 Carmont, 5 Richards, 25 S Tomkins, 7 Leuluai, 19 Presott, 9 Riddell, 15 Coley, 14 J Tomkins, 17 Hansen, 13 O’Loughlin
Subs: 8 Fielden, 10 Paleaasina, 17 Mcilorum, 26 Flanagan
T: Carmont (16), Paleaasina (32), Richards (38), Gleeson (64,77)
G: Richards 4/5
7 Dobson miss (0/1) 0-0
16 Carmont try, Richards miss (0/1) 0-4
22 Richards penalty (1/2) 0-6
32 Paleaasina try , Richards goal (2/3) 0-12
38 Richards try, Richards goal (3/4) 0-18
42 Welham try, Dobson miss (0/2) 4-18
55 Fox try, Dobson goal (1/3) 10-18
61 I’Hanson try, Dobson goal (2/4) 16-18
64 Gleeson try, Richards goal (4/5) 16-24
77 Gleeson try, Richards goal (5/6) 16-30
Referee: R Silverwood