Rugby League: Wigan's loss throws title race open: Champions upset

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The Independent Online
Hull KR . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .21

Wigan . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .10

THE gap between the top and the bottom of the First Division was made to look laughably narrow and then turned on its head yesterday as a Rovers side still doomed to almost certain relegation put a mighty dent in Wigan's Championship hopes.

A Hull KR team consisting almost entirely of unheralded local players fully deserved one of the most astonishing victories of an unpredictable season, tackling with fierce commitment and taking their chances with an urgency that Wigan conspicuously lacked.

Their use of the strong wind at their backs in the second half was a telling factor, but even playing into the gale before the break Rovers had the look of a side who were going to take Wigan all the way.

They only went behind because an uncharacteristic hole appeared in their defence after eight minutes to allow Nigel Wright to race in from 60 yards and could have gone in ahead if Mike Fletcher had not been held on his back when he crossed the Wigan line.

Fletcher did narrow the gap with a penalty, but Rovers had to survive plenty of self-inflicted pressure to stop Wigan scoring again during a tricky phase before half-time.

After the interval, it was a different story. Rovers played with an

enterprise that belied their perilous position and never looked back once Rob Hutchinson's kick

allowed Julian Barkworth to win the race and touchdown for the first of his two tries.

Titch Chamberlain claimed Rovers' second, kicking ahead near the line and picking up a rebound to roll over. Mike Crane put over a drop goal before Rovers' third try put a Wigan fight back beyond the realms of possibility.

There was a doubt about the legality of this one as Martin Offiah seemed to have the ball ripped from his grasp before Barkworth dashed down the touchline to score, but Rovers' infinitely more committed approach meant that they deserved the benefits of any luck going.

Andrew Farrell took an inside ball from Offiah for a try which he converted with seven mintues to play, but it was too late to rescue Wigan.

The champions could claim that they missed injured players of the calibre of Frano Botica, Kelvin Skerrett and Martin Dermott. They could also point to the loss of Wright, with a suspected broken leg and Phil Clarke, with damaged

ankle ligaments, forcing them to finish the match with 12 men.

But those injury problems are nothing compared to those endured this season by a Rovers side which gave them a lesson in resolution and threw the title race wide open yesterday.

Hull KR: M Fletcher; Barkworth, Hutchinson (P Fletcher, 76), Charlesworth, Coult; Crane Parker; Jackson (Charles, 36), Chamberlain, Glancy, Richardson, P Fletcher (Hardy, 35), Halafihi (Jackson, 45).

Wigan: Atcheson (Cowie, 57); Robinson, Panapa, Connolly, Offiah; Wright (Lydon, 40), Edwards; Cowie (Betts, 46), Hall, Platt, Cassidy, Farrell, Clarke.

Referee: J Smith (Halifax).

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