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Field, French star for Wigan as WCC again eludes Penrith

Former Dragons fullback Jai Field produced two try saving tackles and laid on the match winner as Wigan stunned Penrith to secure a controversial 16-12 win in the World Club Challenge.

Spurred on by a vocal crowd of 24091 at a sold out DW Stadium, the Warriors ensured the World Club Challenge is the one trophy that continues to elude the three-times NRL champions.

Penrith led 12-10 at halftime after a see-sawing opening 40 minutes but Field laid on the only try of the second half for former Newcastle centre Joe Wardle with a deftly placed kick.

There was controversy over whether Wardle had ground the ball but the try was awarded and Wigan's defence was outstanding as they held out Penrith until fulltime.

Man-of-the-match Bevan French was denied a try that would have sealed the win after being deemed offside from a kick by halfback Harry Smith and the Warriors needed to rely on Field's defence at the back.

One of the great tries is called back!

After chasing down Taylan May and bundling him into touch, Field held up the Panthers centre on the final tackle of the game and Wigan celebrated after the video referee confirmed the on-field decision of no try.  

Wigan stunned the Panthers in the ninth minute when Lebanon international and former Manly winger Abbas Miski scored off a perfectly placed long ball from five-eighth Bevan French on their first attacking foray of the match.

Abbas Miski Try

The Panthers showed great patience to stick to a tactic of running the ball on the last tackle for the last 30 minutes and it paid dividends when star playmaker Nathan Cleary kicked for the first time near the Wigan line.

The ball bounced off the shoulder of Miski and into the arms of Penrith hooker Mitch Kenny, who passed to Cleary to score.

Nathan Cleary Try

French, who scored a record seven tries in a match for Wigan in 2022 and has crossed for 68 tries in 74 Super League matches, again turned creator when hooker Kruise Leeming regained the lead in the 33rd minute.

A cut-out pass from French put centre Adam Keighran into space and he linked with Miski, who turned the ball inside to Willie Isa inside and Leeming backed up to receive the final pass and score. 

Kruise Leeming Try

After missing last year's WCC with a leg injury, Penrith fullback Dylan Edwards ensured he would have an impact on the 2024 decider when he scored in the 39th minute to give the NRL champions a 12-10 lead at halftime. 

Dylan Edwards Try

Scotland centre Joe Wardle, who played for Newcastle Knights in 2017, regained the lead for Wigan with a controversial try in the 53rd minute after racing onto a Jai Field kick near the Penrith line and crashing over.

Replays proved inconclusive as to whether Wardle had got the ball down over the tryline but referee Liam Moore sent it up for review as a try and officials found insufficient evidence to overturn the call.

Jake Wardle Try

Panthers centre Taylan May, playing his first match since suffering an ACL rupture in last year's WCC loss to St Helens, looked set to score but Field ran him down and produce a try saving tackle and bundle the Samoa international into touch.

The crowd erupted when French raced through to collect a scrum-base kick from England halfback Harry Smith but the former Parramatta speedster was deemed to be off-side.

There was further controversy when May crashed over on the final tackle of the match but Field managed to get under him and insisted to Moore that he had held up the Panthers centre.

A heart-stopping finish

Replays again proved inconclusive and the try was disallowed, ensuring the Warriors hung on to repeat their 1991 defeat of Penrith, who have now lost all four WCC matches the club has contested.

Match snapshot

  • Penrith had never won a World Club Challenge, losing in their three previous attempts against Wigan (1991), Bradford (2004) and St Helens (2023).
  • The Panthers did not kick in attack until almost 30 minutes into the match, and only kicked twice in the first half compared to nine kicks from Wigan.
  • Fiji star Sunia Turuva was forced from the field in the 66th minute with a leg injury sustained trying to keep a Cleary kick in the field of play.
  • Wigan lost interchange hooker Kruise Leeming, who played for Gold Coast last season, at halftime after he succumbed to an ankle injury initially sustained last weekend against Castleford.
  • The Warriors had just 39% of possession compared to Penrith's 61% and had to defend their own line for much of the match.
  • Panthers fullback Dylan Edwards ran a game high 208 metres with the ball, ahead of winger Taylan May (195m) and Wigan centre Adam Keighran (187m).
  • Penrith co-captain Isaah Yeo (116m) was the only forward to carry the ball more than 100m, with Kaide Ellis (85m) leading the way for Wigan.  
  • Kiwi dual international Frano Botica, man-of-the-match for Wigan in the 1991 WCC, was among the guests at the match, who included former Warriors team-mate Denis Betts and Billy Boston, who scored a record 478 tries for the English club.
  • The player of the match award, won by Bevan French, was named after former England forward Bill Ashurst, who played for Wigan and Penrith in the 1970s.

Play of the game

With Penrith trailing 16-12, Dylan Edwards sent Taylan May racing for the tryline with a pass on halfway to his centre.

However, Jai Field - once considered too lightweight for the NRL - managed to catch him and bundled the Samoa star into touch with a copybook cover tackle that Wigan fans will compare to Scott Sattler's 2003 grand final feat for Penrith. 

What a try saver from Field on May!

What they said

"It was a fantastic game between 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," - Wigan coach Matt Peet. 

"Wigan took their chances and we didn't. In the end, that was probably the difference. It was a 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; a great game for the crowd that turned out. Unfortunately we couldn't win but I'm proud of the boys. I'd rather be here and lose than not be here," - Panthers coach Ivan Cleary.

What's next

The Panthers face the Storm at AAMI Park on Friday, March 8 in their opening match of the 2024 Telstra Premiership.

Star five-eighth Jarome Luai is expected to return from the shoulder injury which forced him to watch the World Club Challenge from the grandstand at DW Stadium. 

Forward Scott Sorensen may also be available after missing the WCC with a leg injury.

However, Fiji international Sunia Turuva will be racing the clock to be fit after failing to finish the WCC due to a second half leg injury.

Acknowledgement of Country

Penrith Panthers players and staff respect and honour the traditional custodians of the land and pay our respects to their elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.