Matt Peet shrugs off seismic shift talk after Wigan win World Club Challenge

By Sports Desk February 25, 2024

Wigan head coach Matt Peet shrugged off suggestions of a seismic shift in rugby league’s balance of power, despite his side’s dramatic World Club Challenge win over triple defending NRL champions Penrith at a sold-out DW Stadium.

Wigan’s 16-12 triumph, which was confirmed when Taylan May’s potentially match-equalling try on the hooter was ruled out by a matter of millimetres, marked the first time in 16 years that English clubs have claimed back-to-back wins over their Australian counterparts.

The big-money razzmatazz of the NRL – which kicks off with an historic season-opener in Las Vegas next weekend – has often been regarded as a source of envy, but Peet is adamant the constant comparisons with the game Down Under are doing the English game a disservice.

“I don’t think it is a matter of comparison,” said Peet, for whom victory completed his fairytale rise through the Wigan coaching ranks and added the sport’s only global club honour to recent Challenge Cup and Grand Final successes.

“The NRL is an unbelievable competition, it’s got so much going for it, but we know what we’ve got in this country and we should take more pride in it.

“We talk too much about what they think of us. We should just be concerned with what we think of ourselves.

“We watch their games and we learn from it and we admire it. But we have got a special competition ourselves with some special individuals in it and we should just talk about that.”

Peet’s side held firm in the face of relentless Penrith pressure, snatching an opening try through Abbas Miski then regaining their lead through Kruise Leeming after Penrith talisman Nathan Cleary had put his side in front for the first time.

Penrith full-back Dylan Edwards restored his side’s lead in a thrilling, see-saw encounter, but Jake Wardle wriggled over early in the second half to restore Wigan’s advantage before Jai Field dumped May into touch when he looked a near certainty to level the scores.

Bevan French was denied a potential match-winning try by a slim offside call then Wigan were forced to live on their nerves when May looked to have reached the corner as the seconds ticked down.

Vanquished Penrith head coach Ivan Cleary, whose starting line-up featured 10 of the players who had also been edged out by St Helens in Sydney last year, conceded the result reflected a further step towards parity between the two competitions.

“We’ve always realised that the top teams in Super League are very good. Probably it’s the strength in depth where the NRL is a little different in that sense, but I hope tonight’s result is only going to help,” said Cleary.

“I feel like the best teams can match each other, but I’m not sure about the rest.

“One really good thing about the NRL is you never get an easy game and that’s probably the difference in the competitions.”

Wigan will return to more mundane matters when they host Huddersfield in their first home game of the Super League season next Friday, but the epic manner of their victory has only fuelled Peet’s desire for more success.

The rare sight of sold-out signs around the DW Stadium reflected a continued passion for the club in a town weaned on famous rugby league nights, not least memories of their four previous World Club Challenge trophies, all of which had been paraded on the pitch by former players prior to kick-off.

“It was a special night tonight but who is to say that we can’t have more nights like that and make it more of a regular thing, to increase attendances and the impact this club has on the town,” added Peet.

“There is plenty to build on, on and off the field. There is no reason why we shouldn’t get more big games if we keep learning and improving.

“The thought of that being our last big night would be horrendous.”

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