The inaugural World Club Series has been accompanied by a somewhat muted build-up in Australia, but any footy in February is better than no footy, and this weekend’s trio of matches are shaping up as intriguing, hard-fought contests.
Warrington Wolves and St George Illawarra Dragons kick it off on Saturday morning our time, long-time rivals Wigan Warriors and Brisbane Broncos square off on Sunday morning, and the action culminates in the World Club Challenge between Super League champs St Helens and NRL premiers South Sydney Rabbitohs on Monday morning.
The World Club Challenge concept has had more than its share of critics over the years, but there’s been plenty of highlights. Throwback Thursday this week counts down Commentary Box Sports’ Top 5 World Club Challenge showdowns of all time.
5. 2000 – Melbourne 44 d. St Helens 6 at JJB Stadium
Before the general 2000s trend of British clubs dominating the World Club Challenge began, 1999 NRL premiers Melbourne destroyed St Helens’ international-laden side by 38 points. Brett Kimmorley put on a ball-playing masterclass in the eight-tries-to-two drubbing, while Scott Hill and Robbie Ross bagged doubles.
4. 1994 – Wigan 20 d. Brisbane 14 at ANZ Stadium
Two-time premiers Brisbane were struggling midway through the 1994 competition when mighty Wigan visited for a WCC rematch. The cherry-and-whites atoned for their loss to the Broncos in 1992 with a rousing 20-14 triumph in front of a partisan Broncos crowd of 54,220. Wigan led 12-0 after just 17 minutes and 18-4 early in the second half, but the out-of-sorts Broncos clawed back to set up a grandstand finish. The combatants scored three tries apiece, with Frano Botica’s superior goalkicking proving the difference.
3. 2005 – Leeds 39 d. Bulldogs 32 at Elland Road
Leeds Rhinos were heading for a huge victory over the Bulldogs in February 2005, racking up a 38-12 lead after 55 minutes in front of 37,028 local fans. But the under-strength ’Dogs – captained by Tony Grimaldi – launched a withering comeback, posting four unanswered tries in 16 minutes to slice the deficit to just six points. A 77th-minute field goal by Rhinos skipper Kevin Sinfield sealed the triumph for the nervous home side.
2. 1989 – Widnes 30 d. Canberra 18 at Old Trafford
Played just 10 days after Canberra’s epic extra-time Grand Final triumph over Balmain, the Raiders led British champs Widnes 12-10 at halftime on the back of Mal Meninga’s brutality and brilliance. But the Chemics roared home with four tries after the break as Martin Offiah, Alan Tait and Andy Currier started winding up. Check out the spectacular high tackle that earned Laurie Daley 10 minutes in the bin – but couldn’t prevent Jonathan Davies from scoring – at the six-minute mark.
1. 1992 – Brisbane 22 d. Wigan 8 at Central Park
Brisbane became the first Australian club to win the World Club Challenge in England, downing all-conquering Wigan 22-8 in a fiery clash played a week after Australia’s World Cup final defeat of Great Britain at Wembley. All six of the victorious green-and-golds’ Broncos contingent backed up to play in the comprehensive win over a Wigan side containing Dean Bell, Martin Offiah, Shaun Edwards, Frano Botica, Andy Platt, Dennis Betts, Phil Clarke, Andrew Farrar and an 18-year-old Jason Robinson. Michael Hancock scored a double and Julian O’Neill and Kerrod Walters also crossed for the Broncos, who fielded 10 internationals.