Penrith eager to join world club champions’ roll call ahead of Wigan showdown

By Sports Desk February 20, 2024

Penrith head coach Ivan Cleary is eager to see his all-conquering NRL giants belatedly join the roll call of world club champions with victory over Wigan at the DW Stadium on Saturday.

The Panthers fell short against Wigan and Bradford in 1991 and 2004 respectively before suffering an agonising golden point defeat to St Helens on home territory in February last year.

Despite being one of the NRL’s greatest sides by common consensus after three-straight title wins, Cleary knows an asterisk will remain beside his side’s achievements until they have ascended to the global crown.

“It’s the one thing we haven’t been able to do – only 12 teams have managed to win this thing and we’ve had three goes and missed out on it,” said Cleary.

“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.

“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.”

Both sides have been hit by injury setbacks ahead of the fixture with Cleary confirming Penrith will hand 20-year-old Jack Cole only his second senior start at stand-off in place of absent star Jarome Luai.

Wigan meanwhile will draft youngster Harvie Hill into their front row after losing new signing Luke Thompson to concussion in Saturday’s Super League season-opener at Castleford, with another new boy Sam Walters already sidelined.

But Wigan head coach Matt Peet admitted he breathed a huge sigh of relief when half-back Harry Smith escaped a ban following a yellow card for a tip-tackle in the same fixture, meaning he can line up at the sold-out DW Stadium.

Peet admitted he had been concerned but was “chuffed” by the news and added: “I think both teams want to come up against the best of one another.

“We want to see Harry on that stage, particularly because of the journey he’s been on, coming through that pathway.

“Harvie is another home-grown lad which is brilliant and it is an exciting opportunity for him.”

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