World Club Challenge debrief: world-class Wigan Warriors defending, controversial calls and more

Aaron Bower
World Club Challenge

Action from the 2024 World Club Challenge between Wigan Warriors & Penrith Panthers - Alamy

Wigan Warriors were crowned world champions for a record-equalling fifth time on Saturday evening after edging a brilliant game against Penrith Panthers to win the 2024 World Club Challenge. There were no shortage of talking points, with some controversial moments to boot. 

Love Rugby League was in attendance at the DW Stadium to watch the Warriors make history: here are the biggest talking points coming from the game in the Debrief.

Two world-class tackles from a world-class player

Wigan’s victory was comprised of many moments and many ingredients. All of them extremely impressive. But it’s impossible to ignore two moments of sheer magic from Jai Field which undisputedly decided the World Club Challenge.

Field’s last-ditch tackle to turn Taylan May over and prevent a try in the final seconds of the match was outstanding in its own right. But when you factor in that ten minutes or so earlier, Field produced the impossible when it looked certain that May was going to level the scores.

With May breaking away downfield and two Panthers men in support, it seemed merely a question of who would score the try. But as May backed himself, so too did Field: and with a blistering turn of pace, he caught May, rolled him over and into touch just before May released the ball. It is one of the finest pieces of fullback play you’ll see anywhere: and for a player who is notorious for his threat in attack, it was a moment that underlined why Field is an all-round fullback of the highest degree.

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The best no try of the season?

It had everyone off their feet in the stadium. Wigan had a scrum inside their own half on the hour mark and nobody knew what was going to happen next: least of all the Penrith Panthers backline.

A pinpoint kick from Harry Smith caught everyone inside the DW Stadium off-guard barring one man: stand-off Bevan French. His electrifying pace was too much for the scrambling Penrith defence and with a favourable bounce, French collected, dived under the posts and seemingly put the World Club Challenge beyond doubt.

Except one minor detail: French was fractionally offside at the point of Smith’s kick.

He looked to have one foot behind the kicker, but the rules dictate that both feet need to be behind at the point of contact with the ball. Fortunately, Wigan held on to secure an historic victory. But it was, for our money, arguably the highest-quality no try you’ll see in 2024.

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On-field calls proved decisive

The notion of referees being given the option to send a decision upstairs to the video referee with a try or no try decision has always seemed contentious. After all, if a referee isn’t sure, should he be allowed to offer an opinion to those with all the angles?

There’s no guessing in the NRL in that sense – and that is exactly what it is, given that the whole point of the referee asking for help is because he isn’t sure. And that policy felt decisive on two separate fronts tonight.

May’s dramatic last-ditch effort to score was referred upstairs with a no try call, and in the end, there wasn’t evidence to overturn that suggestion from the on-field officials. But what felt much more significant was the decision to award a try on-field to Jake Wardle as he crossed for what proved to be the match-winning score. Wardle certainly looked short but once again, the on-field opinion felt like it was decisive.

That’s not to take away from a courageous and magnificent display from Wigan Warriors – and Ivan Cleary did little to fan the flames of controversy post-match, instead opting to congratulate the Warriors. But you do wonder that without those two on-field suggestions, would it have been a different side celebrating on Saturday night?

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