The 2016 Super League champions, Wigan Warriors, will host the 2016 NRL Premiers, Cronulla Sharks in the 2017 World Club Challenge down to the DW Stadium this Sunday afternoon. The sides have only met once before, back in the 1992 Rugby League World Sevens, when Wigan beat the Sharks 20-16 after extra-time. I’m sure the Warriors are hoping for a repeat in this Sunday’s World Club Challenge.

 LAST TIME OUT

Wigan prepared for this week’s World Club Challenge with a 26-16 win at Salford Red Devils in the first round of Super League. Wigan got off to a great start by winning the first half 26-0, with tries from Joe Burgess, Joel Tomkins, George Williams and two from Oliver Gildart. It was a dominant half from the 2016 champions, as Salford struggled to deal with Shaun Wane’s men. However, the second half was much different. Salford would win it 16-0 with tries from Kristian Brinning, Junior Sa’u and Michael Dobson. Wigan slipped off in the second half, as they no doubt had this Sundays game on their minds. While still in control of the game, they didn’t put enough in to make a game of it, and Salford took their chances, but they left themselves too much to do, as Wigan held on for an opening round win.

The Sharks have yet to play a competitive 13-a-side game this season, so this will be a real test for Shane Flanagan’s men, and one he can use to see where they are at going into the NRL season opener against Brisbane Broncos.

KEY BATTLES

It’s going to be a great battle on the field this Sunday. Both sides are the reigning 2016 champions in their respective leagues. There won’t be an easy battle on the field. But one that may not get much attention, but will be real influential during the game, will be the battle of the captains. Both Sean O’Loughlin and Paul Gallen both have become legends in the game. Yet neither have lifted the World Club Challenge trophy, they’ll both want nothing more this Sunday. It will be great to see two great players go head to head for the first time, in the sports biggest game.

The battle of the forwards will be a good one. You look at Wigan and they’ve got Tautai, Frank-Paul, Sutton, Flower and more in that forward line. While the Sharks have Fifita, Prior, Tagataese and others who will be involved in an almighty crash at the DW. Both defences will need to be up for it to stop both sets of forwards making too many metres in this one. Players like Tautai and Fifita are known for making those important metres at the most crucial times. Those moments are huge in these big games.

The battle in the halves will be great one to watch for sure. Last week Williams and Leuluai worked brilliantly in that first half, and started to show what was to come. As for the Sharks, their Grand Final partnership of Maloney and Townsend will be looking to continue their great form and provide a performance to win the World Club Challenge. I think it’ll be a close match, so those key moments in this one will be crucial. I’m sure the Sharks are wary of Williams and how quickly he can change a game. As for Wigan, they will know just how important Maloney is to Cronulla and will be looking to keep him quiet on Sunday.

The biggest battle on Sunday will be the one between Super League and the NRL. It’s been a few years since the Super League have won the World Club Challenge and a win on Sunday for Wigan would not only be great for them and their fans, but it’ll be huge for the English game. There’s pressure on both sides, and they will have the weight of their country on their shoulders, it should be a great match and both teams will leave everything on the field, that’s a guarantee.

PREDICTION

I cannot wait for this game. I’ve not been this excited for a non-Grand Final match in a very long time. Wigan want to win this so bad. For Cronulla, they see it more as a reward for last season, and while they’ll want to win it, I just feel the Warriors want it more. The crowd will play a huge role in this game, as many of the Sharks players won’t know what’s hit them when they walk onto the DW pitch come Sunday. It’ll be a tight game, with both defences holding up strong, I can’t see there being much in it.

Wigan Warriors by 4

PRE-GAME MEDIA

Wigan Warriors: 

Shaun Wane: “We want people to be talking about this in 30 years’ time and that’s our challenge. Cronulla are a good team but so are we. It’s not all about us containing them, they have to contain us.”

Sean O’Loughlin: “It would be massive for us to be crowed World Club champions. This club has a great history and affinity with the World Club Challenge in the past but it’s been a while since we won one.”

Joel Tomkins: “It’s the one which has eluded us, and I genuinely think we can do it. To be named the best team in the world would be something else.”

George Williams: “It’s annoying that people say the NRL is a lot better (than Super League), but at the end of the day there’s only one way to prove them wrong and that’s doing it on the field.”

Cronulla Sharks:

Shane Flanagan: “It’s a huge privilege to play in this game. We’re really looking forward to it. If they want to get fiery, I’ve got the team to handle that. Gallen, Fifita and Prior and them – they’ll handle that easy.”

Paul Gallen: “They can try if they want, but I can tell you I’m taking it seriously. Me and Luke Lewis were talking the other day, and we were saying how keen we are to play and how keen we are to win.”

James Maloney: “They have got a few guys with international experience and so we realise it’s going to be a tough ask.”

Gerard Beale: “We don’t look at past results even though the NRL last year had great results. We don’t expect it to be easy, or that way, this year so we’re certainly making sure we are doing everything right.”

SQUAD NEWS

Shaun Wane has stuck with the same 19-man squad that helped his Wigan side start their Super League title defence with a 26-16 win at Salford last week. John Bateman missed out last week with a muscle spasm, however, the England and Wigan second-row forward is expected to be fit to take his place in the team on Sunday. Wane has a huge selection headache this week, which is only good news for the Wigan head coach.

Cronulla coach Shane Flanagan has named his 20-man squad to take to the UK when his side play Wigan on February 19 in the World Club Challenge. The side includes 13 players from the Sharks Grand Final winning team with new recruits Jeremy Latimore and Daniel Mortimer added. Flanagan was forced to leave Valentine Holmes, Sosaia Feki and new signing Tony Williams out of the squad through injury.

SQUADS

Wigan Warriors: John Bateman, Joe Burgess, Tony Clubb, Morgan Escaré, Liam Farrell, Ben Flower, Anthony Gelling, Oliver Gildart, Willie Isa, Thomas Leuluai, Liam Marshall, Frank-Paul Nuuausala, Sean O’Loughlin, Sam Powell, Ryan Sutton, Taulima Tautai, Lewis Tierney, Joel Tomkins and George Williams.

Cronulla Sharks: Jack Bird, Jesse Raimen, Gerard Beale, Ricky Leutele, Kurt Capewell, James Maloney, Chad Townsend, Paul Gallen, Wade Graham, Luke Lewis, Andrew Fifita, Matt Prior, Chris Heighington, Jeremy Latimore, Jayson Bukuya, Daniel Mortimer, Fa’amanu Brown, Jayden Brailey, Joseph Paulo and Sam Tagataese.

MATCH DETAILS

Referee: Robert Hicks

Venue: DW Stadium, Wigan

Date/Time: Sunday 19th February 2017 – 15:00pm GMT