Salford carried Wigan's Super League misery into the Challenge Cup with three tries in the third quarter of a thrillingly intense tie, knocking them out of the competition they used to monopolise. Scores from Sean Rutgerson, Stuart Littler and Aaron Moule, all in the space of 14 minutes, decided the game after a first half which was pointless but passionate.
"Wigan came here to try to turn their season around and the first 40 minutes was as tough as you'll ever see," said the Salford coach Karl Harrison.
Ten years ago, Wigan lost at Salford in the Challenge Cup, ending eight years of supremacy in the world's oldest rugby league competition. That looks a mere blip compared to what threatens to happen this season, with relegation stalking the Warriors. There is something close to desperation afoot at the club, perhaps illustrated by bringing Gareth Hock straight back last night after 15 months out with injury and dropping Dennis Moran to the bench.
Wigan's best early chance came and went when Hock betrayed a little ring rust by knocking on from Danny Orr's pass, before Salford threatened, with Gareth Haggerty and Moule leading a counterattack from deep inside their own half.
The former Wigan scrum-half, Luke Robinson, was sniping and scheming constantly for Salford and came close to creating an opening for Littler, spoilt by another handling mistake.
It was six minutes into the second half before the deadlock was broken. There seemed little danger when Rutgerson took Andrew Duneman's pass and was swallowed up in a three-man battle. The passion this season though is for the tackle to be allowed to run its course and Rutgerson kept forcing his way forward to eventually drop over the line, with John Wilshire adding the goal. Robinson's superb pass and Ryan Clayton's equally good run set up Salford's second try. Wigan managed to stop Clayton under the sticks, but Littler barged his way over on the right.
Salford rubbed in their superiority with a sweeping move for the third try, finished by Moule touching down, with Stephen Myler contributing the goal.
Salford possibly thought the job was done, as they allowed Moran and Darrell Goulding to set up Pat Richards for Wigan's first points. That gave Wigan hope but Salford's tackling in the time that remained showed why it is they and not Wigan who are in the Cup quarter-final this year.
"I'm not criticising the players for their efforts but we're not building enough pressure," said Wigan's coach Brian Noble. "I'm enjoying the hard work but I hate getting beaten."
Salford: Fitzpatrick, Hodgson, Moule, Littler, Wilshere, Duneman, Robinson, Highton, Alker, Rutgerson, Sibbit, Coley, Finnigan. Substitutes used: Charles, Haggerty, Myler, Clayton.
Wigan: Ashton, Dallas, Goulding, Vaealiki, Richards, O'Loughlin, Orr, Logan, Higham, Paleaaesina, Hock, Tickle, Fletcher. Substitutes used: Seuseu, Hargreaves, Godwin, Moran.
Referee: P Bentham (Warrington).