Wigan weather second-half storm to land Leaders' Shield

Hull KR 18 Wigan 38
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The Independent Online

Wigan finally clinched the League Leaders' Shield that has looked to be their destiny all year, but only after weathering an astonishing second-half fightback from Rovers.

The Warriors earned the trophy, and the advantage that first place gives them going into the Super League play-offs, by starting and finishing the match in complete control.

In the middle, however, there was a period when the Robins, inspired by the former Wigan scrum-half, Michael Dobson, threatened to spoil the party. It was thanks to the constant menace of Sam Tomkins that Wigan came through that test and won in some style.

They will receive their trophy after their final home game against Bradford in two weeks' time, and no one can say that they have not deserved it.

The qualities that have made Wigan worthy table-toppers all season were on display in the first half, notably the sort of defensive organisation that stifles all but the sharpest of attacks, coupled with an ability to strike with lethal effect whenever they have the chance.

Much of that strike-power yesterday came from Sam Tomkins, who is looking more of a threat from full-back with every outing in the position. It was his devastating break towards the touchline that set up the first try after four minutes, Pat Richards positioning himself to take the inside pass and add the goal.

Rovers had plenty of possession after that, but the Warriors' defence was in good order; only a Ben Fisher break from deep and a Michael Dobson kick that almost connected with Clint Newton caused them any concern.

A penalty from Richards for a faulty play-the-ball extended the lead before another dazzling raid from Sam Tomkins set up the position for Stefan Marsh to go over from close range.

Best of all, shortly before half-time, came the sort of run from Tomkins that is worth the price of admission on its own. It was only stopped by a high tackle from Dobson, and Richards exacting a further two points.

A remarkable transformation came over Rovers at half-time, though, starting with Dobson putting Scott Murrell over. Dobson's long-range kick then forced a drop-out, from which he took Fisher's pass to send in Matt Cook. When Rhys Lovegrove touched down from another Dobson kick, and Dobson added a third conversion, Wigan had been breached three times in seven minutes and squandered their lead.

"For 20 minutes we lost our way," said the Wigan coach, Michael Maguire. "It was a worrying time for the team, but they showed their strength by getting back to what was needed."

Inevitably, Sam Tomkins was central to that response, linking with his brother Joel and then going over from dummy-half to reclaim the lead.

Richards scored his second from Paul Deacon's wonderful long pass and Joel Tomkins scored a try and collaborated for another with Josh Charnley, who scored against the club where he had spent the last few weeks on loan.

*St Helens' hooker, Keiron Cunningham, has been cleared of a suspected broken jaw from Saturday's game at Crusaders.

Hull KR: Briscoe; Fox, Latus, Cockayne, Colbon; Murrell, Dobson; Vella, Fisher, Lovegrove, Newton, Netherton, Watts. Substitutes used: Wheeldon, Clinton, Hodgson, Cook.

Wigan: S Tomkins; Roberts, Goulding, Marsh, Richards; Deacon, Leuluai; Hansen, Riddell, Coley, J.Tomkins, Farrell, O'Loughlin. Substitutes used: Paleaaesina, Davies, Tuson, Charnley.

Referee: B Thaler (Wakefield).