Leigh head coach Adrian Lam believes last year’s dramatic Betfred Challenge Cup final win over Hull KR at Wembley laid the foundations for the club to become a recognised force at the top of the domestic game.

Lachlan Lam’s golden-point drop goal sealed a 17-16 win and sealed a stunning first season back in the top-flight for the newly rebranded Leopards, who also defied expectations by reaching the end-of-season play-offs.

Second-season syndrome has struck this term with the Leopards currently languishing in ninth place as they prepare to reprise their Wembley showdown when they head to Craven Park to face buoyant Rovers in the quarter-finals this Saturday.

But Lam, who concedes KR will be “red hot favourites” for their latest meeting, is confident that the lessons learned from their success in the last campaign will stand them in good stead for the foreseeable future.

He said: “The Challenge Cup was one of the greatest moments for the club in the past century, and it created some memories that we will keep in our hearts – not just the players and staff but the whole town.

“Our town hasn’t had too much to cheer about over the last 50 years, and this has really given it some hope and a breath of fresh air, for people to be able to come down and support a team that they know has a chance of winning every week.

“And I think for supporters of other sports, they know who we are now. We have etched our name in the history and folklore, and as a club we have given ourselves an identity for people to watch and support.”

Leigh will go into the game on the back of consecutive derby defeats to Wigan and Salford, in contrast to KR, who have scored three straight wins including last week’s 50-10 triumph over rock-bottom London.

Lam described Rovers’ recent form as “scintillating”, and suggested the hosts will be up for the fight in light of what happened at Wembley last year: “They will be emotionally connected to that, so we have to match it,” he added.

However, Rovers head coach Willie Peters insists the tumult of last year’s Wembley occasion will play no part in their quest to build on their promising early-season form and seal their place in the semi-finals.

“A lot of people will be talking about what happened last year, but we’re certainly not,” said Peters.

“It’s a different year, a new year. It’s the quarter-finals of the Challenge Cup in 2024. All we’re focusing on is going out there this weekend and getting a result.”

Leigh are likely to be boosted by the return of prop Tom Amone after a month out with a foot injury, while Jez Litten will return for Rovers in place of Ben Reynolds, who is cup-tied.

Hull FC have parted company with head coach Tony Smith following a disastrous start to their new Betfred Super League campaign.

Smith’s side were thumped 56-22 at home by Huddersfield on Saturday, leaving them second from bottom of the table with just one win from their first seven games.

Smith and his assistant Stanley Gene have left their roles by mutual consent, with assistant coach Simon Grix and head of emerging talent Francis Cummins taking charge on an interim basis.

Hull FC chairman Adam Pearson said: “On behalf of everyone associated with Hull FC, I would like to thank Tony and Stan for their contribution to the club during their time with the first team.

“They have worked tirelessly and it is disappointing to have had to come to this decision, but it is one I feel is right at this time. I wish them both well for the future.

“There will be further restructuring of the club in the coming days and we will update further in due course.”

Smith, 57, made a controversial switch from rivals Hull KR at the end of the 2022 campaign but his first season in charge did not go to plan and included an embarrassing 0-40 derby defeat at the MKM Stadium.

The 2024 season has brought further heavy losses, with the single exception of a hard-fought 24-20 win over relegation favourites London Broncos in early March.

Smith, also the vastly-experienced former coach of Huddersfield, Leeds and Warrington, said he was disappointed not to get the chance to try to turn the club’s fortunes around.

“I want to wish the club and all of the players well for the future,” he said.

“It is disappointing not to see the job through, which was always going to be a challenging project, and I was relishing the opportunity to see it through.”

St Helens head coach Paul Wellens insists there is no need for hype when world champions Wigan roll into town on Good Friday for a clash that could go some way towards shaping the new Betfred Super League season.

The sport’s biggest domestic showdown throws up plenty of added interest with the visitors eager to stretch an unbeaten start that includes emulating Saints’ World Club Challenge win over NRL champions Penrith.

Apart from a surprise home defeat to Salford, Saints have also reverted to their unfamiliar role as challengers with aplomb, and two successive wins over Leeds at Headingley has set them up well for a game in which a victory will shift the narrative of the campaign so far.

Having faced off with his side’s biggest rivals more than 50 times in his stellar career as a player, Wellens does not need reminding of the magnitude of a fixture which will once again have the ‘sold out’ signs hanging outside the Totally Wicked Stadium.

“It’s Wigan on Good Friday – it sells itself,” said Wellens.

“Fans and players can’t wait for the game to come around. It’s the fixture you draw a circle around at the start of every year, and we are always excited about the challenge.

“It’s two teams who have achieved a lot of success in recent history, and a lot of that comes from knowing how to handle big games and big moments, and how to channel your emotion in the right way.

“This is the big game in British rugby league. We have Grand Finals and Challenge Cup finals, but after those showpiece occasions, I think Saints against Wigan on Good Friday is the game everyone wants to watch.”

Wellens hopes key men Tommy Makinson and Lewis Dodd will be fit to return from recent injuries, while Mark Percival is also available after suspension. However in-form forward James Bell is banned.

Wigan, whose superb start to the season fell a little flat last Friday when they were forced to fight to see off determined Championship side Sheffield Eagles in the last 16 of the Challenge Cup, hope to welcome back Willie Isa and influential full-back Jai Field.

Warriors head coach Matt Peet may not be able to match his Saints counterpart in terms of a top-level playing career, but having battled his way through his club’s coaching ranks he too knows only too well what the match means to each local community.

“It’s a completely unique game,” said Peet.

“Rugby league fans understand it, people in the two towns understand it. Whether the teams are flying high or having indifferent seasons, it sells itself because of the history behind it.

“It’s about striking a balance between the two. You can’t shy away from the emotion of it, but you’ve got to get the rugby side right.

“I think a lot of the motivation is already there. You don’t have to remind the players that it’s a fantastic fixture.

“Both teams are used to playing in these kinds of games. The players know how to handle it, and they can put it to the back of their minds and play their best game.”

With its glittering history of welcoming A-list luminaries like Louis Armstrong and Tina Turner to its world-famous Variety Club, Batley could be forgiven for failing to string up the bunting when Super League strugglers Castleford roll into town on Saturday.

In fact, the perennially over-achieving Championship club are relishing the prospect of a Betfred Challenge Cup sixth round clash against a side whose head coach comfortably eclipses all those entertainment titans in the West Yorkshire town’s affections.

Craig Lingard’s career as first a player then head coach of the Bulldogs left such an impression that he has a section of terracing named after him at the club’s famously wonky Mount Pleasant stadium, and his departure for Cas last year was never going to threaten those bonds.

The historic knockout competition, of which Batley were the first winners in 1897, gifted Lingard an immediate return to the club whom he helped reach an improbable Championship Grand Final in 2022, as well as their first ever trip to Wembley in the 1895 Cup last year.

Small wonder his successor as head coach, Mark Moxon, who had previously served as an assistant for 12 years including the last three under Lingard, sees no reason to rip up the well-established blueprint that has served the unassuming club so well.

“We don’t really evolve at Batley,” Moxon told the PA news agency. “It’s about continuation, no shadow of a doubt. We live within our means year after year, and we continue to compete in a division in which the other teams have all historically spent much more money than we have.

“Craig is a bit of a club legend, and he had great success here that led him to Super League. I learned a lot from him as I continued my development. It’s important to maintain the culture that Craig was a part of. It’s all about working hard and togetherness, and I guess that’s the key to our success.”

Having pushed Featherstone close in their first game of the new Championship season on Sunday, Batley have every right to fancy their chances against a Castleford side who have made a dismal start to their new Super League campaign, failing to pick up a point from their first five games.

And while Lingard will draw on his experience to equip his players to cope with Mount Pleasant’s precipitous pitch, Moxon believes it could still prove a crucial factor in the underdogs holding their own against their top-level opponents.

“Craig might know all about the pitch but he’s not playing,” added Moxon. “There will be a few lads amongst them who have not played at Batley before. We are used to teams coming here and coming out of the tunnel and they can’t believe the steepness of the hill.

“Obviously we’re both very aware of each other’s game-plan. They’re going to be stronger and fitter than us, but the longer we are able to compete they might get nervous. It’s the kind of tie that you relish, and magic things can happen in sport.”

A full-time firefighter at Leeds-Bradford airport, Moxon has no immediate ambition to follow Lingard into the elite, and is instead content to work to create new memories at a club and town where Hollywood stars and Hollywood-style scripts are intertwined.

“I’ve got a job that I like and it’s secure, and the jump to go full-time is a big step, especially in professional sport where it can be quite fickle,” added Moxon.

“I love it here at Batley. It’s been a long time since we got anywhere near to winning the Challenge Cup, and the next best thing is to draw a Super League team at home. It should be a great occasion.”

BB Coke High school, led by national players Nassandra Miller and Yiana Wilson, won the 2024 Rugby League Jamaica Girls 13-a-side Championship on Wednesday at The Cedar Grove Academy. Playing in a round robin format, the St Elizabeth school secured wins over Norman Manley High and The Cedar Grove Academy to secure the coveted title.

The champions defeated Norman Manley 16-10 in their first game, with tries from Miller, Wilson, Talesha Russell, and Rickayla Rochester. For Norman Manley, tries came from national player Yashemer Briggs and Doniehsa Clarke, with Brittany Briggs kicking a goal. BB Coke then dominated Cedar Grove 18-0 in their second match. Rochester led with 6 points from a try and goal, whilst Russell, Miller, and Tanya Mckence each bagged a try. Norman Manley finished second with a 14-8 win over Cedar Grove. Their tries from Shereece Jemison (2) and Yashemer, whilst Brittany kicked a goal. Cedar Grove’s two tries came from Evanne Parchment and Zade Harris.

Winning coach Kamar Findlay is ecstatic for the win, “It’s a morale booster and we are excited! The entire team fired on all cylinders and it a big moment for girls’ rugby league with all teams fielding 13 players, it shows the growth of the program in the institutions.”

Meanwhile, in boys’ quarterfinals U16 action, Calabar High defeated St Georges College 18-4 to progress to the final.

For the winners, Chadwick Brown, Timari Johnson, and Jahzeel Francis each scored a try, whilst Shamar Walker kicked two goals. Meanwhile, for St Georges, Allando Williams replied with a try.
Kingston College had a bye in the quarterfinals and will face Calabar, whilst Cedar Grove progressed after Kingston High failed to show. Cedar Grove awaits next Thursday’s final quarterfinals when Campion College hosts BB Coke. The Semis will be contested on April 12 and the finals on April 18, venues to be announced.

In U14 action, Calabar overpowered Cedar Grove 26-4 and drew 10-10 with BB Coke. In their second match, BB Coke also dominated Cedar Grove 28-8. The schools face off again in round two on Friday April 12, before the top two meet in the finals on April 18.

 

Having proved a model of consistency amid the relative chaos of recent seasons, Leeds second-row Rhyse Martin believes the time is right to crown his Headingley career with some serious silverware.

The ultra-dependable 31-year-old has only a solitary Challenge Cup success in 2020 to show for his efforts since moving to the club in 2019, and with his contract up at the end of the year, 2024 may be his last chance to lift more trophies.

But Martin is convinced he has already seen a shift-change in his side’s ability to chisel out precious points after three wins in four matches, culminating in lashttps://content-wordpress.pressassociation.com/wp-admin/media-upload.php?post_id=9499691&type=image&TB_iframe=1t Friday’s fightback – ignited by Martin’s opening try – to beat Leigh from 16 points behind.

“To be able to find that rhythm to pull it back is impressive and it’s something that has got the team through in recent years,” Martin told the PA news agency ahead of Friday’s Super League clash with St Helens.

“Obviously to get a lead and grind it out to get the win is easier on the stress levels and we’ve probably had to find ourselves fighting back from deficits a bit too often for my liking.

“But I think in recent years we might have found a way to lose that game, and also the games against Catalans and Salford, so being able to close out games and get the two points is crucial.

“In previous years we’ve been one win from four, so it’s nice to be in this position. These early wins will help us in the back end of the season. Silverware is what you strive for because it’s what you want to look back on and talk about with your kids.”

Martin has been a virtual ever-present in an otherwise inconsistent Rhinos side over the last three years, playing at centre for much of the 2023 campaign, and adding his accuracy with the boot that saw him equal the world record for consecutive successful kicks in 2022.

But Martin’s status as arguably one of the most underrated players in Super League – and certainly one of its most successful overseas signings – may be on borrowed time with his future beyond the current campaign still unclear.

“I am off contract at the end of the season and at the moment it’s up in the air,” added Martin. “For me, nothing else has changed since I came to the club – I turn up and train hard and play hard.”

Martin, one of a growing number of PNG players in Super League, made no secret of his desire to be involved in a prospective Papua New Guinean franchise in Australia’s lucrative NRL.

Talks on funding a franchise team in Port Moresby are understood to be ongoing and Martin, who has represented his country at two World Cups, said: “If PNG got an NRL team it is something I’d be interested in, 100 per cent.

“I don’t know when that will be, so I don’t know in what capacity. But it would be something to play for them. It would be like playing for Manchester United, one of those massive teams that gets crazy fans everywhere they go. It would be something special.”

Excelsior Community College Eagles defended their Intercollegiate rugby league 9s title on Saturday by defeating the University of West Indies Pelicans 18-4 in the finals at the University of Technology grounds.

The win concluded a flawless campaign for the Eagles, who finished with a perfect 6-0 record. National player Akeem Murray led the team with 10 points, scoring a try and kicking three goals. He was supported by Daniel Barham and Antwon McKane, who each scored a try. The Pelicans' only score came from national player Hakeem Richard with a consolation try.

The finalists had contrasting paths to the championship game. Earlier in the semis, EXED comfortably got past Caribbean Maritime University Spartans 14-4 whilst the Pelicans dug dig deep to carve a 16-10 win over perennial rivals and hosts UTECH Knights. Despite not making the top four, Mico University Crocs showed plenty improvements in their group games.

INTERCOL Rugby League Chair Romeo Monteith remarked, “Hearty congratulations to EXED on defending their title, they played excellent rugby league over the two Saturdays of competition and are deserving winners. All the teams gave excellent accounts of themselves, and we were thrilled to see several national players take the field for various teams. Next season should be even bigger and better for intercollegiate rugby league as institutions continue to rebuild their programs."

 

London Broncos winger Lee Kershaw says the daunting prospect of squaring up to world champions Wigan this weekend pales compared with the challenges of self-sufficiency and spin-cycles.

The 24-year-old winger landed at the newly-promoted Super League club in February following an uncertain period as a free agent, after being released by relegated Wakefield at the end of last season.

It has proved a major culture shock for Kershaw, who still lived at home with his parents in Bradford, and had never previously visited the capital bar a fleeting visit to watch the Bantams in a play-off final.

“It’s been a big step, moving out and becoming self-sufficient, and I’m having to learn quickly,” Kershaw, who is currently living close to the Broncos’ training base at Rosslyn Park, told the PA news agency.

“I haven’t tried to wash my whites yet, and I haven’t got an ironing board, but I’m quite a good cook, and my partner will be down in a couple of weeks so she will help me sort myself out.

“I’d never been to London in my life, except to literally get on and off a coach at Wembley. We always used to go on holiday to Bridlington or Blackpool. So it’s been very different but I’m enjoying it.”

Kershaw’s problems finding a new club in the close season came as a surprise given some stand-out performances in a struggling Wakefield side, not least the swashbuckling, length-of-field tries that have become his trademark.

After leaving Belle Vue, Kershaw briefly revelled in his status as a free agent, working a few bar shifts and training with Leeds Rhinos before it slowly dawned on him that he could be left without a club for the start of the new campaign.

“I properly lost my head one night, when my agent and London were talking,” he added. “I’d been pretty cool up to that point but I knew games were coming and I just didn’t want to miss any of them.

“Ever since I started, I’ve always committed to just playing rugby. It’s all I wanted to be and it’s all I want to be at the moment. What I am is a rugby player.”

Arguably Kershaw’s highlight in 2023 was bursting onto a spilled pass by Bevan French to score a try that helped seal his side’s stunning golden-point win over Wigan in July, allowing them to briefly court hopes of top-flight survival.

London showed encouraging signs in last week’s close loss to Hull, and for all his hesitancy with domestic matters, Kershaw is convinced history can repeat itself when they come up against Matt Peet’s newly-crowned world champions on Saturday in Wimbledon.

“I can’t think of any game that I don’t go into thinking we can win,” added Kershaw. “I could be in any team, playing against anyone. I’d say it’s almost delusional.

“Wigan are one of the best teams in the world but I still feel the same way.

“I’ll watch the videos and listen to the coaches and every game I’ll think we’re going to go out and do this. But then you end up getting a few minutes in and realising how tough it’s going to be.”

Wigan head coach Matt Peet is relishing the “fantastic” challenge of returning to Betfred Super League action, less than a week after their record-equalling fifth World Club Challenge win over Penrith at the DW Stadium.

Peet’s men meet Huddersfield back at home on Friday evening and he believes their ability to shut out the weekend’s raucous celebrations and maintain their unbeaten start to the new season will speak volumes for their chances of retaining the domestic title this season.

Peet said: “It’s a challenge we’re excited about and I think we’ll learn a lot from our performance this week – whether we’re capable of going again and maintaining our standards.

“We’ve spoken about the challenge of this week and everything that means in terms of coming out of Penrith and into Huddersfield and the threats that Huddersfield bring.

“We always get everything out in the open and it’s a fantastic challenge and one I’m glad we’ve got. We’re glad we played Penrith and it was a great game, and we’re glad to playing at home again in front of our own fans.”

Wigan will be without both Mike Cooper and Kruise Leeming for the clash with the Giants.

Leeming is expected to miss at least the next two weeks with a foot injury, meaning a rare return to the first-team squad for Tom Forber.

Peet joined his players for a celebratory day out on Sunday but was quick to return to the reality of plotting further improvements with the ambition of making nights like the sold-out Penrith fixture a more permanent affair.

“I feel very proud,” added Peet. “I feel like that’s why you’re involved at a club like this and the reason the fans turn out in the numbers they do, because they love the big nights and the big occasions.

“I feel like we have to build on that and make sure we have more nights like that, both for our club and the British game.

“Hopefully it impacts us and we learn from it and it makes us better players. I would expect for players and coaches to come out of a game like that improved.

“The challenge now is to back it up with another quality performance.”

 Visiting English team Wigan-Leigh College prevailed 24-4 against Jamaica Hurricanes Academy U19s in a hotly contested test match at the Mona Bowl on Saturday. The historic encounter marked the first time a local U19 team faced foreign opposition on home soil.

“The game was very physical and competitive encounter, nothing we didn’t expect,” said Wigan-Leigh head coach Kieron Purtill. “It was great to get the win and we hope to be able to repeat the fixture again at some point and help the growth of the game in Jamaica. It’s been a great experience for our team to travel to Jamaica, the numbers and standard of players is good to see.”

Hurricanes started confidently, winning g a penalty for offside on their first set. However, they failed to find touch on the ensuing kick, allowing Wigan-Leigh to take a 4-0 lead when center Dylan Hughes scored in the right corner on the counterattack. Five minutes later, the lead extended to 10-0 when winger Toa Bayliss scored in the left corner, with Lucas Tyrer converting. Despite several chances, the Hurricanes failed to capitalize, and Wigan-Leigh further extended their lead to 16-0 when Kian Stanton’s agile footwork saw him breach the defense to score on 18 minutes. Josh Lee's successful conversion put the visitors firmly in control at halftime.

The Jamaican team showed improved performance in both attack and defense in the second half. They opened the scoring when Shevaughn Smith displayed deft footwork to secure a try, narrowing the deficit to 16-4. However, despite more opportunities, the home team couldn't add further points, and their challenges were further compounded when prop Dominique Myers was red carded for dangerous contact, reducing them to 12 players. The visitors remained steady and sealed the game with tries from Daniel Foster and Kieron Cooke, making it a final score of 24-4.

Hurricanes Coach, Antonio Baker, commented: “I am proud of our team regardless of the score line. The physicality was there but we lacked finesse and tactical skills to move the ball as we wanted to. We got in some good positions, but a lack of experience saw us give away our advantage. Wigan-Leigh capitalized on their own chances. Much thanks to Wigan-Leigh for a very spirited game and hope we will get more opportunities to play them again and other youth teams from England as this can only continue to help us develop.”

Jamaica Hurricanes U19 Academy
Gavon Bent, Dominique Myers, Fitzroy McLeod III, Tyreke Hutchinson, Jaleel Green, Khaeron Carlyle, Antwon Mckane, Matthew Craig, Brandon Gordon, Shevaughn Smith, Ahmeekique Miller, Maliq Morris, Ricardo Smith, Tyrone Davidson, Melvin Harris, Carl Thompson, Shaquille Drummond, Dowayne James, Oneil Britton

Coach: Antonio Baker

Wigan-Leigh College
Ethan Sherlmerdine, Toa Bayliss, Diego Walker, Kallan Hilton, Lucas Tyrer, Josh Lee, Kian Stanton, Ben Gaskell, Rhys Clayton, Kieron Clarke, Daniel Foster, Callum Darbyshire, Harry Cawley, Daniel Alker, Freddie Findley, Spencer Dodd, Tyler Topping Higson

Coach Kieron Purtill.

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.”

Sold-out signs and the sight of the world’s best player gunning for revenge are set to make it a World Club Challenge to remember when Wigan pit their wits against triple NRL defending champions Penrith Panthers at the DW Stadium on Saturday.

The Warriors will join the Sydney Roosters as five-time winners of the prestigious, if inconsistently contested, pinnacle of the global club game if they deal a further blow to a side still smarting from their golden-point defeat to St Helens a year ago.

For all their acclaim as one of the greatest sides to grace Australia’s high-profile and lucrative NRL, Penrith are still yet to lift the accolade, having lost all three of their previous finals, including to Wigan in 1991, and it is something their talismanic half-back Nathan Cleary is desperate to put right.

“Losing to Saints last year still hurts, but we’re lucky enough to get the chance of redemption,” said Cleary, who led Australia to World Cup glory on his last visit to the UK in 2022.

“As a club we haven’t won the World Club Challenge so that’s another thing we want to do, get the final trophy in the cabinet.

“I have fond memories of being over here and winning the World Cup, and although I’m back with a different team there’s the same desire and drive. It’s a great challenge but also a great opportunity and the end goal would be special.”

In contrast Wigan boast a stirring history in the competition, their notoriously brutal initial win over Manly at Central Park in 1987, starring the likes of Ellery Hanley, Joe Lydon and Henderson Gill, followed by subsequent triumphs in 1991, 1994 and 2017.

In centre Adam Keighran, whom they signed from Catalans at the end of last year’s Grand Final-winning campaign, they also possess something of an inside-track on what makes their rivals tick, the 26-year-old having spent two years with Penrith’s New South Wales Cup side from 2018.

Keighran told the PA news agency: “I think there are similarities between both clubs. Penrith are a bit isolated out there in the west and they form a very tight-knit group involving the whole community, and I’ve noticed the same thing here.

“I know last year was a very disappointing loss for them and I think it’s something they’re very keen to change. I don’t think their perception of the English game has changed but they’ll be more hungry than they were last year to set things straight.”

After a sporadic start, the World Club Challenge has been played every year, barring Covid, since 2000, although it was not until 2014, when Wigan were swept aside by Sydney Roosters, that the event in its modern iteration was staged outside the UK.

The perceived reluctance of English teams to travel drew scorn from some in Australia who suggested clubs used the event as little more than pre-season preparation, but the nature and magnitude of Saints’ win last year appears to have contributed to a significant shift-change.

While the old days of well over 30,000 packing into the old Central Park to watch the win over Manly have long gone, the sold-out signs at the DW Stadium have been stuck up since January which bears testament to the enthusiasm for a fixture that could steer Wigan to the summit for a fifth time.

“There has been a real anticipation and buzz around the town for months now,” said Wigan captain Liam Farrell, who also played in his side’s defeat to the Roosters at the DW Stadium in 2019.

“The club has got a strong history in the World Club Challenge, so if we can play our small part in that and get a win on Saturday, that would be great for us to be a little piece of that special history.”

Wigan will draft academy product Harvie Hill into their line-up in place of new signing Luke Thompson, who is absent having failed a head injury assessment in the wake of their opening Super League win over Castleford.

Penrith head coach Ivan Cleary also turns to youth, with 20-year-old Jack Cole set to partner Nathan Cleary in the halves in the absence of the injured Jarome Luai.

Jamaica Hurricanes Academy U19s will square off against touring Wigan-Leigh College from England in a groundbreaking rugby league test match at the UWI Mona Bowl on Saturday, February 24. This marks the first time Hurricanes will field an U19 team against international opponents in the 13-a-side version of the game. Kick-off is scheduled for 3:30 pm.

 The Wigan-Leigh College team, currently on a development tour to Jamaica, are from the North of England and linked to English professional club Leigh Leopards, competing in the Super League. During their stay, they have conducted coaching and match official seminars with local personnel and hosted coaching clinics at The Cedar Grove Academy and Campion College. They are the fourth international team to tour the island within the past six months.

 The Hurricanes have already gained a significant milestone from the tour, securing a 12-8 victory over the visitors in the U19 Academy Finals at the New Year 9s on February 17. The historic win marked the first time a domestic Jamaica team earned a win against a team from England in any format of the game. The Hurricanes are comprised of Jamaica’s top High School and Club U19 players, the Academy is an integral part of the domestic development for elite players.

 Looking towards the game, Antonio Baker, Hurricanes Academy Coach, said, “Rugby League Jamaica has dedicated considerable effort to developing rugby league at the grassroots level. The Test will offer a valuable opportunity to assess our progress, facing top-tier opposition from England. I am confident the team will give their best effort, as they all aspire to represent their country admirably.”

 Kieron Purtill, Coach of Wigan-Leigh College, expressed gratitude for the warm hospitality extended by the Jamaican rugby league community, remarking, “The reception we've received in Jamaica from the rugby league community has been outstanding since the day we arrived. Participating in the Nines tournament was a fantastic experience for our team, showcasing a very high standard and significant participation. We eagerly anticipate our test match this Saturday as we prepare to take on a swift and robust Jamaican teamAnt. Rugby league emerges as the ultimate victor, and our partnership between Leigh Leopards, Wigan-Leigh College, in conjunction with Rugby League Jamaica, has provided a once-in-a-lifetime experience for all the young players involved. We hope this tour paves the way for other teams to visit and partake in what we've experienced, further aiding the development of rugby league in Jamaica.”

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.”

Harry Smith is free to feature in Wigan’s World Club Challenge clash with Penrith after escaping a ban for his tip-tackle on Castleford’s Luke Hooley in Friday night’s Betfred Super League opener.

The 24-year-old was sent to the sin bin following the incident but received a Grade B charge because the RFL’s match review panel found that “the unnatural actions of the tackled player significantly contributed to the outcome of the tackle”.

Grade B charges generally incur a one-match ban, but previous conduct can provide a mitigating circumstance and the half-back, a pivotal figure in Wigan’s hopes of emulating St Helens and claiming the title next Saturday, got away with a £250 fine.

Four red and nine yellow cards were issued in the opening round of Super League fixtures, with three players given Grade E charges and referred to tribunals which could rule them out for between four to six games.

Hull’s Franklin Pele, Castleford’s Liam Watts and Catalans’ Michael McIlorum were all sent off for head contact in their respective matches.

However, RFL chiefs insist the eye-catching number of sanctions were not unduly affected by new tackle rule protocols which came into play ahead of the new campaign.

Robert Hicks, the RFL’s director of operations and legal, said: “Of the 13 cards shown, 10 of the incidents would have led to a card being shown under the framework that applied in 2023.

“It was a highly successful opening round of Betfred Super League fixtures, and it is right that the focus is already turning to the second round of matches, and also the Betfred World Club Challenge.”

Page 1 of 10
© 2023 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.