Nathan Cleary of Penrith.
Penrith have been unable to win the World Club Challenge, Nathan Cleary scoring in a loss to Wigan. Image by Jason O'BRIEN/AAP PHOTOS
  • rugby league

Penrith controversially denied world title by Wigan

Alex Mitchell February 25, 2024

Penrith coach Ivan Cleary has conceded the gap is closing between the NRL and Super League after Wigan denied his team a maiden World Club Challenge title.

A controversial second-half try for Warriors centre Jake Wardle, accompanied by a gritty defensive display, sealed the hosts a record-equalling fifth title in a 16-12 win at their sold-out DW Stadium, while again stopping the Panthers from completing their trophy cabinet.

The Super League champions join the Sydney Roosters in winning five world titles. 

It was the second straight year Penrith have failed to add the world title to their NRL premiership, having lost a 13-12 heartbreaker to St Helens at home in 2023.

After back-to-back Super League success for the first time in 16 years, Cleary acknowledged the challenge provided by the English competition.

Penrith coach Ivan Cleary.
 Ivan Cleary was unable to mastermind a World Club Challenge win for his Panthers at Wigan. Image by Mark Evans/AAP PHOTOS 

“That’s the thing about this particular competition, we get to see the best teams together, and Wigan were too good tonight,” he told broadcaster Sky Sports.

“We didn’t execute as well as they did.

“They had three opportunities and scored three tries and that was the difference. 

“They executed better than us and maybe that was enough.”

It was far from the Panthers’ best performance, making six errors in the game’s final 25 minutes as their attack struggled to click.

But they utterly dominated field position, with former Parramatta talent and Wigan five-eighth Bevan French admitting his side were constantly under the pump.

“It was crazy … watching back to their grand final last year, they were in the same position and they came home with the win,” he told Sky Sports.

“We just basically said we’re just going to dig deep for each other … 80 per cent of that game we were down in our own half, standing on our try line.

“Really it was nothing flashy … just tough.”

The Panthers will be asking plenty of questions about Wardle’s match-winning try, awarded despite the England international appearing to ground the ball well short of the line.

A video review was unable to overturn the on-field decision, with replays obscured by the bodies of Penrith duo Brian To’o and Dylan Edwards as they made desperate tackles.

To make matters worse for Penrith, centre Taylan May touched down for what would have been a dramatic leveller with a scrambling effort on the final play of the match – but inconclusive evidence meant the on-field decision of ‘no try’ stood.

French landed the match’s first blow with a double cut-out ball for winger Abbas Miski, while another pass helped former Gold Coast forward Kruise Leeming get over to give the hosts a 10-6 lead.

Penrith halfback Nathan Cleary got his side on the board, scoring after his own kick couldn’t be handled by Miski, while No.1 Dylan Edwards gave them the lead on halftime.

Along with his last-gasp effort, May had the best chance to steal the win late with a sizzling line break, only for a brilliant cover tackle from Wigan No.1 Jai Field to drag him into touch.

Penrith finished without winger Sunia Turuva, who landed awkwardly on his knee after jumping to try and save a kick from going dead.