Six again: Memorable English moments in World Club Challenge history

Wigan Warriors’ superb 16-12 victory over NRL winners Penrith Panthers in the World Club Challenge isn’t the first time British sides have impressed in this showdown of the Champions from opposite ends of the globe, and hopefully it won’t be the last. Rugby League World takes a look back at six more of the most memorable moments for English sides in this battle of the best.

2023: Lewis Dodd field-goal

I know… we’ve mentioned this moment on these pages before, but it was such a special one we couldn’t let it go unrecognised on this countdown. After a two-season Covid-enforced break, the World Club Challenge made a triumphant return in 2023 with one of the best games the competition has ever witnessed. When Brian To’o scored a try in the final minute, Nathan Cleary needed to convert to level the scores and send it to Golden Point. He did just that to give Penrith Panthers hope of beating four-in-a-row Super League winners St Helens. But just three minutes later, Lewis Dodd struck his now famous drop goal to seal it for Saints.

2006: Stuart Fielden masterclass

One of the best individual performances in the World Club Challenge remains that of Stuart Fielden when Bradford Bulls won their last title in 2006 at the expense of Wests Tigers. The prop enhanced his reputation as the best forward in the game when he led from the front with controlled, yet aggressive power. None of the Tigers pack could even come close to stopping the powerhouse, who’s sensational performance was topped off with an equally special score when he took Iestyn Harris’s pass, left Ben Galea floundering, brushed aside John Skandalis and beat Brett Hodgson to stretch out for a magnificent try.

1987: Wigan lead the way

Almost 37,000 spectators packed into Central Park to see Wigan claim the first of their now five World Club crowns as the winners from both the English and Australian leagues went head to head for only the second time. In what is now deemed unusual, not a single try was scored in a fiery game that saw Ronnie Gibbs sent off for Manly and tensions boil over on more than one occasion. David Stephenson’s four goals helped Wigan to their memorable 8-2 win after the boot of Michael O’Connor had put the visitors two points up early on, as the hosts wrote their names in the record books as the first British winners of the annual contest.

2012: Ryan Hall wondertry

Seeking revenge for their previous defeat to Manly Sea Eagles at Elland Road three years earlier, Leeds Rhinos returned to the homely comforts of Headingley when the sides went head to head again in 2012. Yes Leeds got the victory they so desperately wanted, but it was Ryan Hall who stole the show with a brilliant length of the field, interception try after half an hour. When Brett Stewart delayed sending David Williams in at the corner, Hall timed his move perfectly, gathered the ball as it bounced up off his shoulder to race 95 metres to score. No one could stop him and it remains one of the best tries this competition has seen.

1989: Widnes, the comeback kings

In what is highly regarded as the first official World Club Challenge, a Mal Meninga-inspired Canberra looked on course for victory after racing into an early 12-0 lead against Widnes at Old Trafford. But smart offload play by the British side brought tries for both Martin Offiah and Paul Hulme to make it 12-8 at the break. Then when Laurie Daly was sin-binned for a high shot on Jonathan Davies it was advantage Widnes, and they didn’t waste the opportunity – crossing at the Stretford End through Offiah, Richard Eyres and Darren Wright. Steve Walters got a consolation four-pointer for the Australians, but it was Widnes left celebrating a 30-18 victory.

2017: Brilliance from Burgess

Joe Burgess was at his brilliant best as Wigan halted four years of Australian dominance in 2017. Fresh from his return after a season in Australia, Burgess became the first English player to register a hat-trick of tries in a World Club Challenge final as Wigan ran out 22-6 winners over Cronulla Sharks. Only Michael Jennings (Sydney Roosters v Wigan 2014) had previously achieved the feat, while Brett Morris (also Roosters against Wigan in 2019) has achieved it since. Other players stood out for the Warriors on the night, but it was Burgess’ treble that secured the win and his own place in the record books.

First published in Rugby League World magazine, Issue 494 (March 2024)

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