Wigan stun NRL’s Cronulla in World Club whitewash

Wigan Warriors winners of the 2017 Dacia World Club Series.
Wigan Warriors winners of the 2017 Dacia World Club Series.
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The Rugby Football League is to step up plans for the 2018 World Club Series following an unexpected 2-0 series victory for Super League.

Wigan followed up Warrington’s 27-18 win over Brisbane on Saturday night with an equally impressive 22-6 demolition of NRL champions Cronulla yesterday afternoon to turn the series on its head following 3-0 whitewashes by Australian clubs in each of the first two years.

Last year’s one-sided matches prompted a raft of NRL clubs to turn down invitations for the 2017 event, with only the Broncos willing to join the Sharks on the trip to the UK.

However, Super League’s double triumph has breathed new life into the concept and the RFL is keen to capitalise on the success.

“We are already in detailed discussion with our colleagues from the NRL about the format and potential locations for the 2018 World Club Series, and these discussions will advance over the coming weeks as we review the 2017 series,” RFL chief executive Nigel Wood said.

“What is clear is that competitive international club rugby can showcase the very best in our sport to the world. The skill, passion and quality on show over the last two days have demonstrated that Rugby League at its best is difficult to beat.

“These two games have shown that the annual series between NRL and Betfred Super League clubs can be competitive and I am delighted that both Wigan and Warrington have demonstrated the high quality and skill level of rugby league in the northern hemisphere, particularly in a World Cup year.”

Joe Burgess scored a hat-trick of tries as Wigan made it a dream double for Super League.

Burgess, who spent the 2016 season in the NRL with Sydney Roosters and South Sydney, scored his side’s first two tries and completed his hat-trick in the last action of the match as Wigan became not only the first English winners of the World Club Challenge since 2012, but the first team to lift the trophy four times.

The Warriors looked strangely nervous at the start and England internationals Sean O’Loughlin and George Williams both came up with handling errors deep inside their own 22-metre area inside the first six minutes.

But an interception by winger Lewis Tierney helped them relieve the pressure the first time, and created the position from which Burgess scored his first try, courtesy of an acrobatic dive at the corner which enabled him to skirt the touchline.

Burgess enjoyed a more straightforward finish after 22 minutes after smart work from Williams, Sam Powell and his centre partner Oliver Gildart.

Morgan Escare managed one conversion to make it 10-0 which is how it stayed until half-time, although Wigan lived dangerously at times and certainly rode their luck, with Cronulla having two tries disallowed by video referee Phil Bentham.

Luke Lewis was denied for an offside by right winger Jesse Ramien following James Maloney’s high kick, while left winger Kurt Capewell was ruled to have brushed the touchline as he reached another Maloney high ball.

Substitute Cronulla forward Sam Tagataese was then thrown back from the line just before the break as Wigan defended superbly and they looked mightily relieved to hear the half-time hooter.

There was no way back for the Australian champions, however, once Gildart finished off a probing run by Escare to score Wigan’s third try four minutes into the second half.

Escare kicked his second difficult conversion to make it 16-0 and that forced Cronulla to play catch-up.

The Australians pulled a try back after 58 minutes when 
Ramien won the race to Gerard Beale’s grubber kick to the line and Maloney added the conversion.

But Wigan had done enough to hold on and they clinched a famous victory when Burgess dived onto a loose ball in the last action of the game and Escare kicked his third goal.