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Havard: World Club clash massive occasion to change Wigan’s history

History of success brings big expectations. Some clubs find themselves weighed down by the achievements of the past, while others embrace it and go on to write their own chapters with new deeds of glory.

Wigan Warriors are a club which, at times, have fallen on both sides since the start of the Super League era, although recent seasons have seen them very much doing the latter with Betfred Challenge Cup success in 2022 followed by a first Grand Final triumph for five years last October.

That 10-2 win over Catalans Dragons at Old Trafford – Wigan’s sixth Super League title and their 23rd top division title overall – set up this Saturday’s World Club Challenge showdown with Penrith Panthers, and Warriors prop Ethan Havard is in no doubt what victory over the Australian champions would mean too.

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“This is hopefully the start of something which could be good for us,” Havard told Sky Sports. “The World Club Challenge is a massive occasion to change the history of the club.

“To add an extra star to our badge would be amazing, but a lot of hard work goes into getting into those games, so it starts with that.

“Lifting the [Super League] trophy is something we’ve been working on for some years. To get back being champions is obviously a good feeling.

“It was a momentous occasion, and it was great to be a part of it.”

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A look back Wigan Warriors’ route to their first Super League title since 2018

Unfortunately for Havard, he will be a spectator as he continues to recover from a hamstring injury sustained in the Grand Final, and he will be joined on the sidelines by fellow England international Luke Thompson after the forward failed a head injury assessment in the Super League season-opening win over Castleford Tigers last Saturday.

Although frustrated to miss the opening weeks of the 2024 campaign, Havard has no regrets about risking aggravating the injury by playing in last year’s title-decider, even though he could only make a 10-minute cameo off the interchange bench in the end.

“We knew it was a risk me playing in the final, but you don’t get those opportunities much,” Havard said.

“I did everything I could to get back for that game and I don’t have any regrets about it. Now I just need to look after my body, do what’s right for me and then get back fit and playing this year.

The World Club Challenge is a massive occasion to change the history of the club. To add an extra star to our badge would be amazing, but a lot of hard work goes into getting into those games, so it starts with that.

Wigan Warriors’ Ethan Havard

“I took my time with it this time just to get it right, but the testing is going well and I’m pressing on. I can see the end now and I’m looking forward to being back in the mix with the boys.”

Born in Bulgaria to English parents, Havard is one of a clutch of players to have come through the Warriors’ renowned academy system in recent years to become an important part of Matt Peet’s squad.

The former Wigan St Patricks junior was a regular spectator at the DW Stadium in his youth too, and as a result knows just how much the work the club is doing in the community has contributed to a sell-out crowd set to descend for this weekend’s clash with the team which has won the NRL in each of the past three seasons.

At 23, Havard is still not that far removed from being one of the school pupils who were inspired by Warriors players visiting them, and enjoys being one of those who is out engaging with the people of the town on a weekly basis.

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St Helens beat Penrith Panthers to win the 2023 World Club Challenge in dramatic fashion with a golden-point drop goal!

“It’s pretty cool,” Havard said. “I remember the senior lads coming in when I was in school, and it was always something I looked forward to and remembered.

“I was one of those who was in the South Stand watching the first team every week, and now to be doing that is quite special.

“We’ve been doing it every week, every Friday, going out to schools and different parts of the community and to create those bonds with people is pretty special.

“They’re the people who are coming to watch us, they’re the ones who are coming through the turnstiles, and it’s good for the young kids to take an interest in it and they can become the next Wigan Warriors.”

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A stunning try from Nathan Cleary inspired Penrith Panthers to NRL Grand Final glory in 2023

If Wigan can defeat Penrith, it will mark the fifth time they have been crowned club world champions, including having beaten the Panthers at Anfield in 1991 and most recently taking the title seven years ago when they defeated Cronulla Sharks.

It would match what old rivals St Helens did last year when they went down to Australia and beat the Panthers 11-10 with a golden-point drop goal as well, although as with any good forward, Havard knows they will have to scrap for everything to allow the likes of reigning Man of Steel Bevan French and Jai Field to showcase their game-breaking skills on the big stage.

“Matty said what will beat Cas will beat Penrith,” Havard said. “It’s built on effort, desire, and that’s the type of thing which wins big games.

“It’s not necessarily the fancy plays or too much shape, it’s just backing your mate up and being there in defence.

“You only get that [moment of magic] on the back of putting in the energy and the effort to create those openings which players can exploit.”

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Watch the World Club Challenge between Betfred Super League champions Wigan Warriors and NRL kings Penrith Panthers at the DW Stadium live on Sky Sports Arena from 7.30pm on Saturday February 24 (8pm kick-off). Also stream Super League contract-free with NOW.

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