The wait for the annual World Club Challenge is nearly over, with Super League fans hoping that this will finally be the year that the British sides put up a real challenge to the NRL. Warrington kick off the series on Saturday evening at the Halliwell Jones Stadium, where they take on the Brisbane Broncos, however the big game takes centre stage on Sunday afternoon when Super League champions Wigan go to battle against the NRL premiers Cronulla Sharks at the DW Stadium.
The game will showcase many key encounters across the pitch, with none more mouth-watering than the battle between the two stand-off’s: George Williams James Maloney. Despite being a steady and reliable performer in the NRL for a number of years, 2016 was a breakthrough year for Maloney, following his move from the Sydney Roosters. The half produced a vintage campaign, helping the Sharks to win their first premiership in their fifty year history. This was capped by making his mark on the international scene, after being called up to the Australia Four Nations team and playing two games for the Kangaroos. On the other side of the field is Super League’s 2015 young player of the year, George Williams, who has steadily grown into one of the best halves in the British game since his debut in 2013. His performances over the past three years unsurprisingly led to rumours of an off-season move to Australia, however Williams remained at Wigan, and the Warriors will need the 22-year-old firing on all cylinders to take the game to the Sharks.
Another important clash is between the two opposing captains, with Wigan’s Sean O’Loughlin taking on the veteran Paul Gallen of Cronulla. Both players are stalwarts of their respective sides, spending their entire career with their club teams, and sharing a wealth of experience on the international stage with 60 caps between them. Both Wigan and Cronulla fans will be counting on their skippers to lead by example in the World Club Challenge, and steer them to victory.
Motivating Wigan is the chance to bring home the trophy for the first time since 1994, when they defeated Warrington’s opponents, the Brisbane Broncos by 20 points to 14. For the Sharks, the fact that they have never competed, and therefore never won a World Club Challenge game gives them a perfect opportunity to add another new piece of silverware to the trophy cabinet, whilst a win would be ideal preparation for the upcoming NRL season.
The Warriors go into the game with Shaun Wane naming an unchanged 19-man squad following last week’s victory away at the Salford Red Devils. Following his omission from the team at the AJ Bell Stadium with a muscle problem, Wigan look set to welcome back John Bateman, who should add some extra flair and power in the forwards.
Cronulla include 13 members of their Grand Final winning side in the squad, but are unable to call on the services of the injured Valentine Holmes, Sosaia Feki, and new recruit Tony Williams. Following an impressive Auckland Nines performance, Jesse Raimen is selected, whilst the injury to Holmes leaves coach Shane Flanagan with a selection headache at full-back, with both Gerard Beale and Jack Bird being considered.
Hopefully Sunday’s game will showcase two passionate teams battling tooth and nail to gain the victory in a free-flowing, exciting World Club Challenge match-up. The Warriors will need to be on top of their game to gain the victory, but it is by no means out of their reach to claim the crown for Super League.
Wigan squad: John Bateman, Joe Burgess, Tony Clubb, Morgan Escaré, Liam Farrell, Ben Flower, Anthony Gelling, Oliver Gildart, Willie Isa, Thomas Leuluai, Liam Marshall, Frank-Paul Nuuausala, Sean O’Loughlin, Sam Powell, Ryan Sutton, Taulima Tautai, Lewis Tierney, Joel Tomkins & George Williams
Cronulla squad: Jack Bird, Jesse Raimen, Gerard Beale, Ricky Leutele, Kurt Capewell, James Maloney, Chad Townsend, Paul Gallen, Wade Graham, Luke Lewis, Andrew Fifita, Matt Prior, Chris Heighington, Jeremy Latimore, Jayson Bukuya, Daniel Mortimer, Fa’amanu Brown, Jayden Brailey, Joseph Paulo, Sam Tagataese