Super League closes gap on NRL again as Wigan Warriors are crowned World Club champions

Ben Olawumi
Wigan Warriors lift the World Club title

Wigan Warriors lift the 2024 World Club title after victory over Penrith Panthers - Alamy

If the NRL are still interested in buying Super League, the price has definitely increased tonight as the gap between the two competitions closed again with Wigan Warriors’ World Club Challenge triumph against Penrith Panthers.

Earlier this week, reports emerged Down Under of an apparent interest from Australia’s elite division in purchasing the best the British game has to offer competition wise.

For years, the stigma has been that the NRL is vastly superior to Super League. For what it’s worth, we’re not suggesting the Australian competition isn’t ‘superior’, but that word is a stretch of the imagination nowadays – ‘more advanced’ would be a more appropriate phrase.

Let’s be honest about the situation – rugby league is Australia’s ‘footy’, their main sport. Over here, we’re battling against deep-rooted ideologies of this being just a northern sport, all the while trying to grow an interest in this great game nationwide.

Thanks to IMG, things have improved on that front already, not just in the north.

London Broncos had over 5,000 at their home opener against French outfit Catalans Dragons on Friday night, their best crowd for over a decade up against a side who – notoriously – don’t bring many travelling fans, just as it is in the NRL due to the incredible geographic distances between some clubs.

Super League closes gap on NRL again as Wigan Warriors are crowned World Club champions

And a good marker, at least in our opinion, of that gap we so often hear talked about are the annual occasions in which we get to see clubs from opposite hemispheres battle it out.

St Helens lift World Club trophy in 2023; Wigan Warriors lift World Club trophy in 2024
St Helens (left) & Wigan Warriors (right) have both tasted success against Penrith Panthers in the World Club Challenge over the last two years – Alamy

The last two World Club Challenges now have both gone in favour of the English sides, both St Helens & Wigan seeing off NRL kings Penrith Panthers, who have been crowned champions Down Under in each of the last three seasons.

2023 saw Saints make history as they became the first British team to win a World Club showdown in the Southern Hemisphere in the Super League era.

And Wigan followed that up tonight with another phenomenal showing in their own backyard, astutely defending their line and taking their chances when they came.

Both instalments were incredibly tight affairs, but both saw the Super League team come out on top against a side being touted as one of the best ever to play the game – and that says it all, or at least shows just how that gap has been closed.

Warriors boss Matt Peet & Penrith Panthers head coach Ivan Cleary weigh in on gap debate following World Club Challenge

To add some flavour, both head coaches involved in tonight’s showpiece at the DW Stadium gave their thoughts post-match on that gap, with Cherry & Whites chief Matt Peet urging comparisons to be brought to a close.

He said: “I genuinely don’t think it’s a matter of comparison. Theirs is an unbelievable competition and it’s got so much going for it, it’s flying.

“But we’ve got a good competition as well, and I don’t think it should ever be a matter of comparing the two.

Matt Peet, World Club trophy
Wigan boss Matt Peet (front centre) holds the World Club trophy during the Warriors’ celebrations – Alamy

“We know what we’ve got here in this country and we should take more pride in it.

“We talk too much about what they think of us… we should just concern ourselves with what we think of ourselves, and I’m proud to be a rugby league man.

“I’m proud of rugby league here in the North West of England (in particular), and I don’t mean that with any disrespect to the teams outside of the heartlands, but we shouldn’t shy away from what we are.

“We’re rugby league people who represent working class people, and I’m not too fussed about the NRL.

“It’s an unbelievable competition, we watch their games and we learn from it, we admire it, but we’ve got a special competition ourselves with some special individuals in, and we should just focus on that.”

Penrith boss Ivan Cleary meanwhile suggested that it isn’t teams competing in World Club Challenges that are currently holding Super League back, but those who perhaps aren’t as competitive on a week-to-week basis.

Ivan Cleary
Penrith Panthers head coach Ivan Cleary examines the DW Stadium playing surface ahead of the 2024 World Club Challenge – Alamy

He said: “The quality of the game tonight for an early-season game was outstanding. There weren’t many mistakes and those that happened were through pressure.

“We always realised the top teams in Super League are very good and it’s probably the thing Super League struggles with, depth.

“In the NRL, that’s a little different in that sense. I hope it’s only going to help, tonight’s result.”