|Job done though and that's all we wanted. Wasn't pretty but the fact it was reasonably comfortable should please Wigan fans I think because that was only ever going to be a sweaty night against a side without that much Grand Final expectancy. Huddersfield's defeat of Warrington proved that.|
Must admit when we heard the pre match team news in the South Stand Bar our heads sagged massively. Sean O'Loughlin at half back was massive gamble tonight and with that final score you can't really argue it was the wrong decision. But I can't help feeling that next week when the quality of opposition increases, we might get found out. The kicking game was still poor in this contest for me.
Anyway in attack O'Loughlin was right on the mark with his long looping pass that got Pat Richards over in the left corner for the first score in the 5th minute. I think only Pat could have caught that one. Relief that his kicking was on form tonight, he booted the conversion over to make it 6-0.
So a nice start and at the restart all we needed was some calm play but no, Stuart Fielden why oh why oh why? Stupid offload, in our quarter, gobbled us by Hull KR. 17 seconds later Peter Fox does well to get over in the right corner. Dobson converted to make it 6-6.
Then from their restart, they score again. Lovely grubber kick from Scott Murrell on half way was collected by Ben Fisher. With the Wigan defence flapping he hacked forward and it bounced nicely for Ben Cockayne to score. Dobson converted and in just two minutes Wigan's 6-0 lead had turned into a 12-6 deficit. Message to Stuart Fielden - don't offload in your own quarter!!!
It was pleasing though how Wigan recovered from this situation. Under Brian Noble we probably would have got bogged down and started panicking but we are far calmer under Michael Maguire. Soon as we got the ball back we scored again.
A grubber from Leuluai caused problems but Mick Vella tidied up, albeit at the expense of a drop out. From that, Rovers were penalised for not standing square and the pressure became too much for them to handle. Mark Riddell, doing some great work early on, sent Liam Farrell over from close range. Suspect of a forward pass but the try was given.
Have to say if I was to award a unsung player of the year award this year, Liam Farrell would win it. The lad only made his debut in April but I can't recall a dodgy moment from him since he's played. Shown no signs of nerves at all. Chris Tuson has done a great job as well but Farrell has an extra edge in attack. 9 tries in 21 appearances is an excellent return from a rookie forward.
Wigan still showed signs of nerves with a couple of daft conceded penalties that helped Hull KR retake the lead. I think Wigan have proved that "taking the two" in a first half can often prove the wrong call. Hard to tell if it would have mattered to Rovers here but Dobson kicked the penalty, with help from the post, to make it 14-12 but never really pressed on from that.
Wigan continued to look threatening in attack, even though Riddell had been interchanged with Mike McIlorum. They almost scored a great try when McIlorum spread it right from dummy half. Leuluai, Sam and Martin Gleeson all got a touch before Darrell Goulding looked a certain try scorer in the right corner. But the ball was punched out of his hands when he was about to score. Apparently the rules state that, that can't be a penalty try. Thats garbage! It was a certain try which Hull KR could have got away with.
In the end it didn't matter because it took Wigan 30 seconds to score from the tap penalty. Good passing again from Wigan. O'Loughlin, Leuluai and Sam all got involved to send Goulding in the corner. Pat nailed a touchline conversion to make it 18-14.
15 minutes of stalemate followed that and with half time close I think Hull KR would have been pleased with that score. Wigan were in the wars. Joel Tomkins suffered a big head wound after a clash of heads with Andy Coley and what is it with Paul Prescott's cheek? It bleeds every single game. A little injury day worked well for Wigan because they claimed a crucial try right on half time.
Rovers only had themselves to blame. They let Sam Tomkins run across the field, pass five men and his run created an overlap for Goulding to claim his second of the night and 27th in 24 appearances this season. One press guy on twitter before this game was reckoning that a Wigan loss here would be ironic after Noble had been released for getting us further into the play offs but Darrell Goulding is living proof of the vast difference between this year and the Noble era. Before this year Goulding's Wigan career strike rate was 35.5%. That has increased by 20% this year to 56.6%.
Wigan showed poor play though at the restart again. Only 50 seconds remained on the clock so all they needed to do was shut up shop but a big hit on Andy Coley forced a knock on and Rovers had 30 seconds to nick an unlikely try. Thankfully Wigan survived, but only just!
I say it every week but the first try of the second half always seems crucial in Rugby League. The way to score was easy for Wigan. Just run from dummy half and Rovers were slow in coming forward. It was easy yardage. The first ten minutes saw no try line pressure though from either side. It was midfield stalemate and it was waiting for someone to make an error or concede a penalty. Hull KR's Josh Hodgson was penalised for a grapple tackle and Wigan punished. Soft try but nice work from Leuluai who scored from a metre out. Easy conversion for Pat made it 30-14.
It was a big lead and we should have all felt comfortable with it but I'm sure I wasn't the only one still sweating, given our poor home record recently. Those nerves were eased further when Martin Gleeson claimed another try on the next set. Good hands again from Wigan. From left to right - O'Loughlin, Leuluai, Farrell and Joel Tomkins all got a touch before Gleeson broke through after Rovers took his dummy towards Goulding. He's been a bit of an unsung hero as well this year. That was his 13th try of the season. Pat hit another touchline conversion to make it 36-14.
23 minutes remained but the game was won. Rovers never gave up and at one point managed to force three consecutive drop outs. Wigan's defence was superb to hold them out from that but Peter Fox did manage to claim his second of the night in the 67th minute. Dobson put the grubber in and Fox pounced on the ball. A ball that Sam Tomkins really should have hacked dead. Dobson failed to convert so the score was 36-18.
Best thing to do when the opposition score is hit straight back and Wigan did just that. A sloppy Rovers pass went to ground and they got penalised for holding O'Loughlin back from picking up the loose ball. Wigan had joy all night attacking down the right, so went that way again and Joel Tomkins was sent over by his brother Sam. Nice step as well to leave Kris Welham flat footed. Pat hit another conversion to complete a perfect night of goal kicking for him. The made the score 42-18 and although Rovers still pressed in the final ten minutes, that's how the match finished.
So I wouldn't say that was a pretty performance but the job was done and in comfortable fashion. Our second half defence was superb but we need to focus more on restarts. We won't get away with sloppy play next week.
Speaking of next week, yes we have to go away to either St Helens or Leeds but losing last week I think takes the pressure of expectancy of us. It's likely that we'll be going to Leeds who may have won the title in each of the last three seasons but they are now without Danny McGuire. And whilst our home form left us twitchy tonight, our away form has been outstanding in 2010 and we must draw confidence from that. 2 away defeats out of 15 games is awesome and the two away games we did lose came down to last minute tries. In Super League our record against the play off teams is Won 8 Lost 0 away so we know how to win away and let's hope that's crucial next week. I certainly don't think we have anything to fear. Bring it on!
One final thing, read Justin Morgan's comments below. I think he summed the game up perfectly and shows why he is a class coach. I always admire his commentary when we works for the BBC. I'm still amazed a bigger club hasn't picked him up yet but Rovers are in pretty good hands the longer he stays.