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World Club Challenge: Everything you need to know as Wigan face Penrith

Ahead of the World Club Challenge 2024 between Wigan Warriors and Penrith Panthers, we take a closer look at some of the biggest questions about the monumental clash…

What is the World Club Challenge? Key facts

The World Club Challenge sees the champions of the Super League take on the NRL victors to be crowned champions of world rugby league.

Think of it as the Champions League of rugby league, the best of one country’s competition facing off against the best of another. It is Man City vs Inter Milan. It is Liverpool vs Real Madrid. It is Bayern Munich vs Paris Saint-Germain.

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St Helens beat Penrith Panthers to win the World Club Challenge in dramatic fashion with an extra-time golden point-winning drop goal!

Cricket is more your thing? Think of it as a one-off match between the winners of the Vitality Blast and the Big Bash.

Eighty minutes to determine who is on top of the world.

The NRL has 14 World Club Challenge wins to their name and the Super League matches them with 14 of their own, meaning the victor in this year’s clash will put their competition on top.

The Sydney Roosters are the most successful club with wins in 1976, 2003, 2014, 2019, and 2020, Wigan Warriors second with wins in 1987, 1991, 1994, and 2017.

If the Wigan Warriors can beat the Penrith Panthers on February 24, they will match the Roosters for wins and put Super League on top.

Why is the World Club Challenge important?

To understand why the World Club Challenge is important, you need to put both competitions in context. So, let’s start with the NRL.

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Highlights of Penrith Panthers up against St Helens in the World Club Challenge.

To play in the NRL is to play in the Premier League of Australia; rugby league is their main sport and if you play in it you are a superstar.

Nathan Cleary, the star man at the Panthers, was voted GQ Australia Sportsperson of the Year in 2023. You are in the limelight and you have to perform.

For Super League, the World Club Challenge presents a massive opportunity to show that the European equivalent can beat the best the Australian competition has to offer.

It is often presumed the NRL is a superior standard to Super League – the World Club Challenge is the chance to prove that belief wrong, as clubs have done over and over again.

Wigan vs Penrith: Key players and stats

Wigan have contested the World Club Challenge eight times, winning four of them in 1987, 1991, 1994, and 2017.

Penrith have never won the World Club Challenge in their three attempts, losing to Wigan Warriors in 1991, Bradford Bulls in 2004, and St Helens in 2023.

Wigan Warriors vs Penrith Panthers: Key Info

Wigan Warriors: Penrith Panthers:
Head coach: Ivan Cleary Matt Peet
Captain: Isaah Yeo and Nathan Cleary Liam Farrell
Year founded: 1872 1966
World Club Challenges won: 4 0
League titles won: 23 5

One of the key battles to watch will be between world-renowned half-back Cleary up against Wigan’s Harry Smith.

Smith had a breakout 2023, but his kicking game and control against the Panthers pack is going to be pivotal if the Warriors want to get themselves on top in the match.

Then we have the star men: Jai Field and Dylan Edwards. Both full-backs are known for their incredible pace and ability to make something out of nothing. There is every chance the match could be decided by a moment of brilliance from one of the men at the back.

We’ve met before: 1991 – Wigan 21-4 Penrith

Wigan and Penrith last faced off in the World Club Challenge in 1991. The game was played on a Wednesday night, but this time at Anfield, as Wigan took the game to a stadium famous for big matches.

Penrith were without two star players – Brad Fittler and Mark Geyer – and Wigan dominated the game. Penalties were the order of the day early on, Frano Botica kicking four of them to edge Wigan into an 8-0 lead.

Penrith replied with a try through Darren Willis, but that was to be their last scoring action. Wigan centre Sam Panapa got over before half-time before David Myers scored late on to secure the win. A late drop goal from Joe Lydon put the icing on the cake as Wigan took home a 21-4 victory.

Is the World Club Challenge important to Australian clubs?

It is impossible to ask every NRL club their opinion on this but if you talk to head coach of the Penrith Panthers Ivan Cleary, the answer is very much yes.

“We absolutely gave it our best, it was the first game of the year and St Helens were too good for us that night,” Cleary said reflecting on their 2023 loss to St Helens.

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Jack Welsby opens the scoring for St Helens with a spectacular try against Penrith Panthers in the World Club Challenge

“It would be nice to get another shot at it.

He added: “I don’t think it took us by surprise, we totally respected what they were going to bring. They are a winning footy team and that’s kind of how they play.

“They definitely deserved to win – I thought they played the conditions better and took their chances as well.

“I was proud of the way the boys hung in there in the second half…we struggled to create any momentum. We stuck at it, but I don’t think you can take anything away from St Helens.

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Jon Wilkin says St Helens’ victory over Penrith Panthers in the World Club Challenge was ‘remarkable’ and also updates us on the first round of Super League action

“They controlled the ruck very well and got off the line very hard…that lead that they built was probably the difference.”

Now Penrith have another chance at world glory against St Helens’ biggest rivals Wigan. Think of it like Liverpool beating Real Madrid and then Man United facing Real Madrid for the title the year after. It is big and it will make waves whoever wins.

Why did the 2023 World Club Challenge matter so much?

St Helens beat all the odds when they went to Australia and defeated Penrith with a golden point drop goal, Lewis Dodd wrote himself into rugby league folklore and Paul Wellens got off to the perfect start as a head coach for his hometown club.

To say the Saints were underdogs is an understatement, the general manager of Canterbury Bulldogs Phil Gould tweeting Penrith would be able to declare at half-time.

It was the first win for a British side in Australia since Wigan Warriors’ win over Brisbane Broncos in 1994, and Wellens’ side secured a “monumental victory” for the Super League competition, the catalyst for the Panthers travelling over to England for the match this year.

“I remember as a kid watching the Wigan team come over here and beat that great Brisbane side in ’94 and, given the fact that a victory like that has never happened since, I think it is obviously a seismic result in British rugby league,” said Wellens.

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St Helens head coach Paul Wellens says their desire to change perceptions of English rugby league motivated them ahead of their World Club Challenge victory

“It is a monumental victory for us as a club. It is a monumental victory for the British game and I am just honoured and proud to be part of such a great club and part of such a great team.

“What we wanted to do is change opinions and I feel we have done that tonight.

“I hope that this performance can be a catalyst for change and a catalyst for improvement on our side of the world.”

Penrith travel over, wanting to finally get the trophy against the rivals of the team that shocked them.

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