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World Club Challenge: Wigan Warriors and Penrith Panthers eye place in history as Super League and NRL collide

A World Club Challenge winner with Wigan Warriors, Shaun Wane knows what victory would mean for the club; Penrith Panthers boss Ivan Cleary wants to make it fourth time lucky; Watch the World Club Challenge live on Sky Sports Arena from 7.30pm on Saturday (8pm kick-off)

Picture by Alex Whitehead/ - 20/02/2024 - Rugby League - Betfred World Club Challenge: Wigan Warriors vs Penrith Panthers - DW Stadium, Wigan, England - Wigan Warriors captain Liam Farrell alongside Penrith Panthers co-captain Isaah Yeo during a press conference ahead of the World Club Challenge match.

It is unlikely Shaun Wane will ever forget the 1987 World Club Challenge. For starters, there are plenty of people he meets when out and about in Wigan who will not allow him to.

The player of the match in that historic showdown with Manly Sea Eagles at Central Park on that October night, where David Stephenson kicked Wigan to an 8-2 victory in a fiery encounter with nearly 37,000 fans crammed into the old ground, still gets asked about it regularly to this day.

Now serving as the club's leadership and management director alongside his role as England head coach, Wane knows first-hand what it will mean for the current generation of Wigan Warriors players if they can down Penrith Panthers in Saturday's clash between the Betfred Super League and NRL champions.

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A look back at Wigan Warriors' route to their first Betfred Super League title since 2018

"It changes your life," Wane told Sky Sports News. "It was 37 years since I played in that World Club Challenge against Manly, and there is barely a week or sometimes even days go by when someone around this town doesn't mention that game.

"It was a brutal game, there weren't many tries, it was 8-2, we smashed them to pieces, and they smashed us too. It sticks in people's memories, and people talk about the Cronulla game we when won it when I was coaching in 2017.

"I said to the players this week, they've got the chance to put themselves in history forever with our great club. St Helens did it last year, and I hope our players can do it this Saturday."

Penrith are just as eager to write their names in history as well, although for different reasons. While victory for Wigan on Saturday would see them equal Sydney Roosters' mark of five titles - including the victory over St Helens in 1976 which has since been recognised as the first World Club Challenge match - the Panthers have yet to claim the mantle of world champions.

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Wigan's previous World Club Challenge wins

1987 - Wigan 8-2 Manly: A Wigan side featuring the likes of Ellery Hanley, Andy Gregory and current England coach Shaun Wane got the better of a brutal, try-less affair in front of a huge crowd at Central Park. David Stephenson kicked four penalties to seal victory for the hosts, leaving the Australian side to count their bruises.

1991 - Wigan 12-4 Penrith: Six successful kicks from Frano Botica, plus tries from David Myers and Sam Panapa, made the difference for Wigan against a Penrith team shorn of star names Mark Geyer and Brad Fittler in front of a 20,000 crowd at Anfield.

1994 - Brisbane 14-20 Wigan: Martin Offiah delivered the defining moment as Wigan claimed a famous win in the Broncos' back yard. His charge down the wing early in the second half helped give the Warriors a 14-point lead and it was one they clung onto despite a brave Brisbane fightback.

1987 - Wigan 22-6 Cronulla: Starting his first match since his return from the NRL, Joe Burgess scored a hat-trick of tries as Wigan ended their long wait for a fourth world club title in style. Shaun Wane's men got off to a flying start and never looked back.

The perception in the past may have been that Australian clubs are somewhat indifferent towards the match-up between the northern and southern hemisphere champions, yet Ivan Cleary's side are more determined than ever to ensure they are lifting the trophy at full-time on Saturday.

Penrith's three previous appearances in this match have all ended in defeat, including to Wigan at Anfield in 1991 and last year's 13-12 golden-point loss to St Helens on home turf. Having won the NRL Grand Final three years running, head coach Cleary is well aware this is the final frontier to conquer.

"It's the one thing we haven't been able to do," Cleary said. "Only 12 teams have managed to win this thing and we've had three goes and missed out on it.

"You look through the list of winners and only the big clubs have done it, so for us to be on that list would be big.

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A stunning try from Nathan Cleary inspired Penrith Panthers to NRL Grand Final glory.

"I've watched these games for many years from growing up as a kid and it's a big game - you don't play for a world championship every day and I think both teams will show what it means on the night."

For Cleary's opposite number Matt Peet, victory in front of a sold-out DW Stadium would see him complete the full set of available honours in just his third season as Wigan head coach, having overseen Betfred Challenge Cup glory in 2022, and League Leaders' Shield and Grand Final wins in Super League last year.

A lifelong Warriors fan, Peet was part of the club's staff during Wane's tenure as head coach and under his successor Adrian Lam, ascending to the top job following the latter's departure at the end of 2021 and completing a rise from coaching in the community game at Westhoughton Lions and Wigan St Patricks.

Wane, who worked his way through the ranks after hanging up his boots from scouting for Wigan to coaching in the youth set-up and as part of the senior staff prior to beginning a trophy-laden six-year spell at the helm in the 2012 season, has been a long-time admirer of Peet's coaching ability.

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St Helens beat Penrith Panthers with a golden-point drop goal to win the 2023 World Club Challenge in dramatic fashion .

Having experienced World Club Challenge success as a head coach as well when Wigan last won the title in 2017, beating Cronulla Sharks 22-6, he hopes the 39-year-old can enjoy the same life-changing experience this weekend.

"I've known Matt for decades as a young coach coming from St Pats and I've worked very closely with him," Wane said. "He's a man I rate very highly as a person and as an even better coach.

"He's doing some great things with our lads here and if he can get this one done on Saturday - I know the feeling of when you win a World Club Challenge with this town.

"Your life changes and I don't say that lightly. I really hope Matty can get that done this Saturday."

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Watch the World Club Challenge between Betfred Super League champions Wigan Warriors and NRL kings Penrith Panthers at a sold-out DW Stadium live on Sky Sports Arena from 7.30pm on Saturday, February 24 (8pm kick-off). Stream rugby league and more of sport contract-free with NOW.

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