24 February 2024

Wigan win World Club Challenge for record-equalling fifth time

24 February 2024

Wigan clinched the World Club Challenge for a record-equalling fifth time after surviving last-gasp video drama to confirm a 16-12 victory over triple defending NRL champions Penrith Panthers at a sold-out DW Stadium.

Tries from Abbas Miski, Kruise Leeming and Jake Wardle, plus four points from the boot of Harry Smith, ensured Matt Peet’s men emulated Super League rivals St Helens, who edged the same team in Sydney one year ago.

Yet in an absorbing clash in which the lead swung in a different direction five times, Wigan were forced into an agonising wait for confirmation of their victory after Taylan May crashed over on the final hooter – only for replays to determine he had been bundled into touch.

As Wigan celebrated the big-screen verdict, the agony was evident on the face of Penrith’s resident superstar Nathan Cleary, who could not prevent his side, all-but three of whom also started in the golden point loss to Saints, failing in their quest to land the trophy for the first time.

It was a night for Wigan to add to their list of previous title wins – the most recent of which came in 2017 – and all of which were recalled in a pre-match presentation which saw representatives of all four of those illustrious sides parading their silverware.

Yet Wigan’s glory night began in ignominious fashion when Willie Isa spilled the ball on the edge of his own 10 in the opening set, but with inexperienced Penrith half-back Jack Cole still finding his feet, the hosts survived the early onslaught.

In their first foray forward after 10 minutes, Jai Field took advantage of a repeat set to jink inside the visitors’ danger zone and the ball was dispatched out to the right when Bevan French sent Miski over in the corner.

With Cole’s confidence growing in only his second top-level start, the triple NRL champions responded with more pressure, Brian To’o held up inches from the line on the last, and Moses Leota fumbling another fine opportunity.

Penrith’s leveller arrived just before the half-hour mark through Cleary, whose initial kick was flapped at by Miski, allowing Cole to feed the experienced scrum-half to dart over and subsequently convert to give the Australian side a 6-4 lead.

Just as Penrith’s speed and pressure seemed to be making a difference, Wigan dredged up another response, again down the right flank where Adam Keighran found Miski and he sent the ball in-field through Isa for Leeming to touch down.

Smith’s conversion from under the posts gave Wigan a four-point lead but their opponents responded on the stroke of half-time when lively full-back Dylan Edwards flopped over in a repeat set, Cleary having the last say of the first half to boot his side into a two-point interval lead.

Cleary continued to orchestrate Penrith’s assault at the start of the second half, his cleverness almost sending Sunia Turuva in the corner, but again Wigan withstood a tough spell and came back firing as Wardle twisted over to restore Wigan’s slender lead after 55 minutes.

Smith’s second-successful conversion put Wigan back four points in the clear and there were signs of frustration creeping into the Penrith ranks as Cleary, of all people, fumbled an opportunity after Isaah Yeo broke the Wigan line.

The hosts clung on as the clock ticked down, Field racing over for a stunning last-ditch tackle that dumped May into touch after the Penrith centre burst clear and looked a near certainty to level the scores.

French thought he had all-but won it when he raced onto a Smith kick with eight minutes left on the clock, only for Wigan’s celebrations to be cut short by an offside call.

The home side were forced to live on their nerves in the final moments as Cole barged close then May crashed over in the corner as the hooter sounded, forcing Wigan into an agonising wait until their famous victory was secured.

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