World Club Challenge: Wigan Warriors 16-12 Penrith Panthers – Cherry and Whites crowned world champions for fifth time

Wigan won the World Club Challenge for a record-equalling fifth time by beating Australian champions Penrith Panthers at the DW Stadium.

Warriors twice led through Abbas Miski and Kruise Leeming but Panthers replied through Nathan Cleary and Dylan Edwards to go in 12-10 ahead at half-time.

Two key decisions by referee Liam Moore went Wigan’s way after the break.

First he ruled that Jake Wardle had touched down to win it, before not giving Taylan May’s last-gasp effort.

The night was heartbreaking for Panthers, who have dominated the Australian game for the past three seasons but have now lost all of their four attempts at ruling the world.

The match was breathless from start to finish, with Wigan penned back for long periods but able to score on their only three real forays into opposition territory.

Panthers edge see-saw first half

Kruise Leeming of Wigan Warriors goes over for a try during the World Club Challenge match between Wigan Warriors v Penrith Panthers at DW Stadium on February 24, 2024 in Wigan, England. (Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images)
Image caption,Kruise Leeming dives over for Wigan’s second try

The match started with a Willie Isa fumble in front of his own posts, but as Penrith piled on the early pressure Wigan went up the other end and scored a superb opening try.

Warriors drove the ball up the middle and then Bevan French arrowed a long pass out to Miski, lurking on the right touchline. He scooted over to score in the corner.

Penrith, in pre-season for their own domestic National Rugby League campaign, looked rusty and were repeatedly wrapped up on the sixth tackle until Cleary’s high kick bounced off the head of Miski and Mitch Kenny sent Cleary over for a simple try.

Cleary’s kick edged the Australians ahead but Wigan came up with another stunning score, a dazzling team move that tore a hole in the Penrith defence and ended with Leeming dashing over.

The Panthers won the NRL Grand Final last year with a remarkable comeback against Brisbane Broncos, and they roared back this time too as the dangerous Edwards sprinted through a gap to level the score, with Cleary’s kick giving them the lead at the break.

Refereeing decisions go Wigan’s way

Rugby League - Betfred World Club Challenge - Wigan Warriors v Penrith Panthers - DW Stadium, Wigan, England - Wigan's Jake Wardle on his way to a try against Penrith.
Image caption,Jake Wardle wriggles over for Wigan’s third try

Wigan were penned back for almost the entire second half but defended ferociously and in their only attack Jai Field’s grubber kick was picked up by Wardle.

He seemed to have been held short of the line and guilty of a double movement, but referee Moore gave an on-field decision to allow the try and after a lengthy video review his call was upheld.

Penrith came again, and Field produced a brilliant tackle to deny May.

French was denied a marvellous try of his own for Wigan when he raced on to Harry Smith’s early kick, only for the video official to spot he had been inches in front of Smith and therefore offside.

Penrith lifted themselves for one last effort and seemed to have scored a levelling try with seconds remaining as May dived for the line, with Miski and Field all over him.

Moore’s call was “no try” and when several video angles failed to prove otherwise, Wigan leapt for joy.

Their victory means they draw level with Sydney Roosters as the only teams to have won the World Club Challenge five times.

‘We won by never giving in’ – reaction

Wigan coach Matt Peet told BBC Sport:

Fantastic game, two outstanding teams. You could see all the way through the game what a fantastic team Penrith are. I couldn’t be prouder of my players. We have to build on it now.

“The players were very brave in the second half. It was a game that we won by never giving in.

“They’re a group of outstanding lads. I love working with them. They never give in and you can see in that game how much it means to them. It was going to take a special effort to get over us tonight, we wanted it so much.

“It’s nights like these that we crave and we’re going to have plenty more.”

Wigan stand-off and man of the match Bevan French told BBC Sport:

“It was very tough, I just think it was a grinding win really.

“We didn’t have much joy being in their territory too often. It feels like we were defending our line for 80 minutes to be honest.

“That is something the boys really pride themselves on. A win like that means a lot more than a comfortable, easy win. Hopefully it is talked about for a long time now.

“They [Penrith] are a very special team and I feel like they were in control the whole game, really.

“It just came down to us digging deep and really wanting it.

“No doubt about it, I don’t think we would have got the job done if it wasn’t here in front of a sold-out Wigan crowd. They really got us home in the end.”

Penrith head coach Ivan Cleary told BBC Sport:

“Wigan took their chances and we didn’t. In the end, that was probably the difference. Pretty high quality game but congrats to Wigan.

“We definitely had the better field position in both halves but we couldn’t put them away and they had three looks at it and scored three tries.

“We should feel that we can do better than that, but at the end of the day they were clinical when they needed to be and that’s what got them the win.

“It was a game of inches. Great game for the crowd that turned out. Unfortunate that we couldn’t win but I’m proud of the boys.

“I’d rather be here and lose than not be here.”

Wigan: Field, Miski, Keighran, Wardle, Marshall, French, H Smith, Cooper, O’Neill, Byrne, Isa, Farrell, Ellis

Interchanges: Mago, Leeming, Dupree, Hill

Penrith: Edwards, Turuva, Tago, May, To’o, Cole, Cleary, Leota, Kenny, Fisher-Harris, Garner, Martin, Yeo

Interchanges: Peachey, L Smith, Henry, Eisenhuth

Referee: Liam Moore

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