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.”

Sam Tomkins feared his hopes of a fairytale finale to his glittering rugby league career had been dashed when he limped away from Catalans Dragons’ Betfred Super League win over Leigh in Perpignan in February.

The 34-year-old made a painful early morning phone call to Catalans head coach Steve McNamara to concede his decision to extend his career beyond last year’s World Cup in order help the French side towards a second Grand Final had been in vain.

Eight months later, having defied both his own initial fears and those of series of specialists who had delivered dark verdicts on his injured knee, Tomkins is preparing for the final game he always dreamed of, against the club he helped inspire to three previous Grand Final crowns.

It has become increasingly hard to deny that it has been written in the stars for Tomkins, especially since he rolled back the years with a nifty sprint through the defensive line of four-time defending champions St Helens to score the match-winning try in their play-off semi-final last week.

“It’s funny how things turn out,” smiled Tomkins. “My last game for Wigan was winning a Grand Final here in 2018 and now my last ever game on the pitch is against Wigan. I understand how lucky I am to be in this position.

“Everybody has their own personal story of what trophies mean to them. I’ve got a story for every one, but this different. This would be the first Super League title for the club, and the last time I’ll ever lace up my boots.

“The fairytale isn’t playing on Saturday – it’s winning on Saturday.”

Tomkins initially needed some convincing to bring an end to his glittering Wigan career and move to France in 2019, uprooting his young family to join McNamara, the former Bradford coach who harboured persuasive ambitions of turning Catalans into a permanent member of the sport’s elite.

Now his young family speak fluent French and he has no immediate desire to return to the UK, investing in property and a potential vineyard in Perpignan and accepting an offer from club owner Bernard Guasch to continue in a role as a club ambassador.

It is a measure of Tomkins’ gratitude for his improbable late-career surge, and his desire to take the club one step further than their previous Grand Final appearance two years ago, that he was swiftly disabused of the conviction that the match against Leigh could be his last.

“We played against Leigh and I had a sleepless night after that game,” recalled Tomkins. “In the early hours of the morning, I called the coach and just said, ‘I can’t do it.’

“In terms of rugby, it was the toughest conversation I’ve ever had. Steve said to just come in the office and we’d chat through it. I was adamant at the time – I know my body and I just said I couldn’t do it.

“I told them they’d be better off bringing in someone else who can play every week. But the club said they didn’t want to do that. They said they’d rather have me here for the important games, and that for me was humbling.

“The performance and medical staff put together a great plan that meant I’ve played more rugby this year than I ever imagined.

“I will forever be in debt to them for the work they’ve done in my last season that means I’ll be able to finish on the biggest stage.”

Tomkins, however, is adamant the inevitable emotion of the occasion will count for nothing unless he is able to lift his current club to what would be an unprecedented first Grand Final win for the French side.

Catalans went toe to toe with Wigan during the regular season, leading the standings for a long period and eventually finishing second on goal difference, before raising their game to sink Saints in front of a near sell-out at the Stade Gilbert Brutus.

Over six planes full of Catalans fans will travel to Old Trafford and both French and Catalonian television channels will broadcast the game live, testament to the strides made by the club in the two years since they came up short against Saints at the same venue.

“We learned a lot a couple of years ago and we certainly learned that you can go to a Grand Final and play really well and can still not be enough,” said McNamara, who has made winning a personal mission since he moved to the club in 2017.

“The experience you gain is the same whether you win or lose and that puts us in a different place.

“We are up against a club who have been one of the juggernauts of rugby league for the last hundred-odd years, but that is how it should be in a Grand Final, and we know we have got to be outstanding.”

Experience and youth will go head to head in Saturday’s Super League Grand Final between Wigan and Catalans Dragons at Old Trafford.

For some players the showpiece will represent their last time on a rugby league pitch while others aim to use the opportunity as a springboard to future success.

Here the PA news agency picks out four of the crucial battles that could decide the destiny of this year’s Super League title:

Full-back: Sam Tomkins v Jai Field

Tomkins’ stunning late try in the play-off semi-final win over St Helens provided ample proof that the 34-year-old’s prodigious rugby brain has not dimmed in the twilight of his career. In contrast, the flying Field’s game is based on speed and spontaneity, capable of cutting through the most resolute of defensive lines. Whoever wins the war on Saturday should be grasping the Super League trophy.

Wing: Tom Johnstone v Abbas Miski

Johnstone and Miski went blow-for-blow in the try-scoring stakes this season and finished the regular campaign locked together at the top of the standings on 27. King of the full-length kick-chase, Johnstone has relished his first season in France but is matched for speed by Miski, the Lebanon international who has seized his unexpected chance to star on the wing for Wigan.

Hooker: Michael McIlorum v Brad O’Neill

Intimidating, combustible and a master of the game’s dark arts, McIlorum will set the tempo for Catalans provided he can resist his former club’s attempts to ruffle his feathers. The 21-year-old O’Neill, meanwhile, brings youthful enthusiasm and an imposing physical presence in defence. Wigan need O’Neill – who seized his slot from veteran Sam Powell earlier this season – to rise to the occasion and match his imposing rival.

Halves: Mitchell Pearce v Bevan French

Australian Pearce, who has seen and done it all during a stellar career in Super League and the NRL, will also retire after the game and his already ferocious will to win will ramp up further as he seeks to bow out in style. French, fresh from snaring this season’s Super League Man of Steel, has revelled in his new role this season and brings the kind of vision and vibrancy that has proved pivotal to his side’s success so far.

Wigan winger Abbas Miski is excited by the prospect of making history when he becomes the first Lebanon international to feature in a Super League Grand Final at Old Trafford on Saturday.

The 28-year-old might have struggled to imagine such a scenario in March when he was loaned out to Championship side London Broncos and made his sole appearance in a heavy defeat at Keighley.

But an injury-enforced reshuffle in the Warriors ranks led to Miski grasping a rare first-team opportunity, and 27 tries and a Players’ Player of the Year trophy later, he has inked himself onto head coach Matt Peet’s starting team sheet.

Miski, who played in all four of his country’s matches in last year’s World Cup, told the PA news agency: “To be the first Lebanese player to play in a Grand Final is a huge honour.

“There are a lot of young Lebanese players growing up in Australia and playing in the NRL, and I think Lebanon has the potential to continue developing into a big rugby league country.

“It’s big for the game in Lebanon too. If people see players like myself playing in Super League and the Grand Final, it gives them someone to look up to and to realise playing at this level is not such a dream.”

Miski will emulate fellow Lebanon internationals Hazem El Masri, Robbie Farah, Tim Mannah and Josh Mansour, all of whom have featured in previous NRL Grand Finals in Australia.

Arriving at Wigan from London in 2022, Miski featured sporadically in his initial top-flight campaign but his prospects changed dramatically two weeks after his trip to Cougar Park, when Jai Field was ruled out for eight weeks due to a recurrence of a hamstring injury.

Peet switched Bevan French from the wing, initially to fulfil Field’s full-back role, leaving Miski to take on the vacant slot out wide – and he responded immediately with a pair of tries in his first appearance against Leigh.

By the end of a campaign that culminated in his side squeaking to the League Leaders’ Shield, Miski sat joint-top of the try-scoring charts on 27 alongside Catalans Dragons rival Tom Johnstone.

“I learned such a lot from Bevan having been on the wing, and I think I really benefited from a sustained period in the squad because the previous year had been very stop-start,” added Miski.

“Going out to London was a conscious decision on my part because I knew I wanted to get some more game time. I could have stayed in the reserves but I really wanted to be ready to play when I got called up.

“It’s been a great season for me and a big honour to get the players’ award. But I am fully focused on the Grand Final because we know how much it means to the fans and the club, and we are all on the same trajectory to achieve our goals.”

Wigan have been boosted by the return of 21-year-old prop Ethan Havard to their provisional squad for the Grand Final, having been ruled out by a hamstring injury since July.

Wigan are looking to kick off a new era of Super League dominance while a Sam Tomkins-inspired Catalans Dragons hope to take rugby league’s biggest domestic trophy back to France for the first time.

Here the PA news agency picks out five key talking points ahead of Saturday’s Grand Final at Old Trafford.

Sam slam

Sam Tomkins admitted prior to the play-off semi-final that he dreamed of finishing his career by lining up against the team with whom he won three previous Grand Finals. The Catalans playmaker has got his wish but will have no room for sentiment as he looks to lead his current side to an historic first win.

French Revolution

After falling short in the final two years ago, Steve McNamara’s Catalans are in a stronger place to take the sport’s biggest domestic trophy back to France for the first time. The impact of such a win should not be understated and could only have positive repercussions for the profile of the sport in the south of France.

Culture club

The sport’s dominant force throughout the late 1980s and 1990s, Wigan were forced to watch in pain as St Helens wrested control with four back-to-back Grand Final wins. With strong recruitment already in place for next season, the feeling is a Wigan win could spark a spell at the top to match that of their vanquished rivals.

Crowded house

Catalans’ previous appearance at Old Trafford yielded a crowd almost 15,000 lower than for any other Grand Final this century. Such a discrepancy may be inevitable – and not so pronounced this time with the French club set to bring a decent contingent of fans – but it does raise a headache where empty seats at the showpiece event are concerned.

Grand finale?

The Rugby Football League’s contract with Old Trafford runs through to 2024 but changes are afoot as strategic partners IMG push forward with a ‘reimagination’ of the sport. While there is no suggestion the Grand Final in itself is under threat, this could be one of the last to be staged at Old Trafford – with the Etihad Stadium across the city rumoured to be leading the list of potential replacements.

Catalans Dragons head coach Steve McNamara is confident a first Grand Final win for his club against Wigan at Old Trafford on Saturday would herald a bright new era for rugby league both in France and beyond.

Having slayed four-time defending champions St Helens in last Friday’s epic play-off semi-final, the Dragons are already generating unprecedented interest in Perpignan – with six private planes already booked to fly fans for the final.

A Catalans win would build on their historic Challenge Cup success over Warrington in 2018 and their only previous Grand Final appearance two years ago, and McNamara believes one final step to the top of the sport could not come at a better time.

“I think it’ll make huge noise around the world if we could get the win,” said McNamara. “Getting to the Grand Final is good but winning it would potentially open the door to a World Club Challenge and other avenues.

“The impact on the game in France would be huge. We’re fighting against a big animal in France in rugby union, but we’re holding our own without a doubt, and games like last Friday against St Helens grabbed the attention of everyone around the world.”

Catalans have grown used to trailblazing since their formation from an amalgamation of a number of French sides in 2000, and the historic granting of a Super League licence for the 2006 season.

Coincidentally Wigan were the first victims of the sport’s new Anglo-French era when they were sunk 38-30 in Catalans’ first match in the competition, and the arrival of former Bradford coach McNamara in 2017 helped them entrench themselves within the game’s elite.

One year after winning their first Challenge Cup in 2018 they staged the first Super League game at Barcelona’s Nou Camp and expanding sponsorship and television deals in Catalonia have led club owner Bernard Guasch to target an imminent return.

Catalans’ former Wigan great Sam Tomkins – who scored the dramatic winning try against Saints – may be deservedly garnering the attention and the plaudits as he approaches a fairytale final match of his stellar career.

But significantly, Catalans’ success is increasingly underpinned by an emerging group of French players, the first generation of home-grown talent to make an impact in Super League, and McNamara is convinced the club’s potential can only continue to grow.

“The club is continuing to develop and the young French players coming into the club now are a lot more professional than they were before,” added McNamara.

“We still have some way to go, but the overall impact on the game (of winning the Grand Final) would be huge not only at the top end, but at the grass-roots level as well.”

Organisers are confident the increasing prominence of the sport in the south of France since 2021 will ensure a healthier crowd than the 45, 177 who witnessed Catalans’ close defeat to Saints, the lowest Grand Final crowd since 2021.

Less than 24 hours after Catalans’ Old Trafford bid, Toulouse will host London Broncos in Sunday’s Championship Grand Final with a swift return to Super League beckoning for their rivals, who were relegated after a single, hard-fought top-flight campaign last year.

The contrasting fortunes of the domestic game are a stark contrast to the international stage, with the French authorities withdrawing from hosting the 2025 World Cup in May, shortly after both their men’s and women’s teams were brushed aside 64-0 by England in Warrington.

“It’s been a difficult period for the French national team,” added McNamara. “But step by step we’ve managed to achieve some real consistency over the last four years, and that can only help to put us in a strong position as a game in France.”

Kevin Sinfield fittingly kicked the winning points to provide a fairytale finish to his magnificent rugby league career as he led Leeds to Grand Final glory on this day in 2015.

The Rhinos twice came from behind in a pulsating tie against Wigan, with Sinfield converting a 64th-minute try from substitute Josh Walters to seal a 22-20 win at a sell-out 73,512 crowd at Old Trafford.

Sinfield’s third goal meant he ended his rugby league career on 4,231 points, making him the third highest scorer in the history of the game, as Leeds celebrated a seventh Grand Final triumph in a year where they also scooped the Challenge Cup and League Leaders’ Shield.

“To top my career off with a treble in my final year is unbelievable. I’m really thankful and really proud,” said Sinfield, who switched codes to rugby union and had a season with the Rhinos’ sister club Yorkshire Carnegie.

“To finish on an ending like that against a great team and for it to be so tough out there, to come through at the end was brilliant.”

Jamie Peacock bowed out with a record 11th appearance at Old Trafford, as well as a ninth success, while fellow front rower Kylie Leuluai maintained his 100 per cent record in Grand Finals in his last game with a sixth triumph.

Leeds’ hero was Danny McGuire, scoring two of their four tries which helped his side to a first win over Wigan in seven major finals and belated revenge for their defeat in the inaugural Grand Final in 1998.

“We were all a bit emotional and felt a little bit drained early on,” McGuire said.

“Three of my best mates are not going to be playing with me next year. Psychologically you try to put that to the back of your mind but it’s always there.

“You want to send them out on the best terms and fortunately we were able to do that through sheer determination and hard work.

“It’ll be weird not having the Sinfield shirt next to mine on a Friday night.”

Wigan Warriors claimed the League Leaders Shield on points difference from Catalans Dragons and St Helens with a hard-earned victory over near neighbours Leigh Leopards.

Tries from Jai Field and Jake Wardle plus a conversion from Harry Smith looked to have put Matt Peet’s side on course for a routine victory.

But Leigh hit back just before half-time with a try from Lachlan Lam, added to by Ben Reynolds which cut the deficit to 10-6.

No points were scored in a titanic second half as Wigan were forced to hang on for their eighth straight win, which secured top spot in Super League and the shield which they were presented with on the pitch after the game.

Leigh started the night in fourth but dropped to fifth after Hull KR’s big win at Wakefield. It means Leigh will face Hull KR – the team they beat in the Challenge Cup Final – at Craven Park in the play-offs.

The home side were without influential skipper John Asiata for the third game running through a shoulder injury. Former Wigan centre Zak Hardaker was also missing with a hand problem.

It was an explosive start in front of a sold-out crowd at the Leigh Sports Village with both sides coming up with some big hits to make it a crackling atmosphere.

The home side had looked the more likely to open the scoring but it was the visitors who struck first in the 18th minute. Field showed great footwork after taking Smith’s pass to beat three Leigh defenders and score in the corner. Smith – making his 100th appearance for Wigan – added the conversion to make it 6-0.

Wigan had beaten Leigh three times already this season and scored a second try 10 minutes later – Smith and Field combining on the left edge to send Wardle in at the corner. Smith could not add the goal but the Warriors looked in control at 10-0.

The introduction of Joe Mellor from the bench gave the Challenge Cup winners some impetus and they finished the half strongly. Reynolds combined with Kai O’Donnell on the left edge and Lam hit the pass at pace to cut through and score. Reynolds kicked the conversion to cut the deficit to just four.

Both sides felt aggrieved to see potential tries disallowed in quick succession early in the second half. Field was pulled back after an earlier obstruction before Oliver Gildart’s effort for Leigh was sent to the video referee and ruled out after lengthy deliberation.

Leigh continued to press in the closing stages but they were thwarted by some determined Wigan defence.

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