Since 2012, Super League hasn’t see one victory in the World Club Challenge, or recently renamed World Club Series. Will that change in 2017? Read on for our preview.
Match 1 – Warrington Wolves vs Brisbane Broncos
Saturday 18th Feb, kick off 20:00pm GMT
Warrington Wolves are Super League’s perennial underachievers. Destined for big things for a number of years, they have never quite hit the leafy highs of winning the Super League Grand Final. In the past 10 years, Warrington have gone on to lift three Challenge Cup trophies and two League Leader’s Shields, most recently winning the League Leader’s Shield in 2016; a season where they were tipped to take it all.
For Warrington, a new season beckons. With the loss to Wigan in the Grand Final 2016, could we see a renewed Wolves side desperate to take the top competition silverware and break the stranglehold of the big four?
In the off-season, there were numerous key personnel changes at Warrington: the most notable loss being Chris Sandow. Sandow was known for his flashy style, great kicking abilities and huge persona but when dropped in the deep end, seemed to sink rather than swim. Even the great Tony Smith, one of the best coaches ever to grace the European Super League was quoted as saying: “He was OK for most of it, and at times he was a pain in the proverbial.” Therefore, we anticipate he won’t be a great loss to the side this year.
On the lookout for a replacement, they found one in Kevin Brown. Brown, 32, has played for a number of top Super League sides since making his debut in 2003 for Wigan against Halifax. A player noted for his leadership abilities, Brown is hotly tipped to bring a new dynamic to the Wolves squad in 2017 so long as he can keep fit.
This leads me to this weekend’s World Club match against Brisbane. I’m not going to sit here and pretend I know a lot about Brisbane on the whole, because that would be a lie. What I do know, however, is that Brisbane are a force to be reckoned with. In 2016, Brisbane visited these shores to take on Wigan Warriors in the World Club Series and left with a 42 – 12 win in a match where they never really seemed to hit second gear.
On injuries, Warrington are hopeful that both Kevin Brown and Ben Westwood will both be fit to play in this Saturday’s game with Brisbane. Toby King, however will miss the upcoming game and the next three or four weeks after tweaking his hamstring.
Prediction: Brisbane to win by 12 – 18 points.
Match 2 – Wigan Warriors vs Cronulla Sharks
Sunday 19th Feb, kick off 15:00pm GMT
In match 2, Wigan Warriors need no introduction – they have been at the top of the English game for that many years, statisticians got bored counting. In 2016, they went on to break a three year losing run by beating Warrington in a closely contested 12 – 6 win at Old Trafford. On trophies, Wigan have taken them all multiple times over the past 10 years, including three Super League trophies, two Challenge Cup trophies and two League Leader’s Shields.
In 2017, a new season arrives for Wigan. No doubt unhappy with the one trophy in 2016, coach Shaun Wane will be out to take them all. If there’s one thing we’ve learnt over the past few years, it’s to never write Wigan off.
As is normal in Rugby League sides these days, there were a number of key personnel changes at Wigan in 2017. Of the losses, a few were very notable: Josh Charnley, Dan Sarginson and Matty Smith. These three players had a tremendous season in 2016 and were absolutely key in their victory over Warrington in the Super League Grand Final.
However, Wigan made a number of signings that have made them the envy of Super League sides, with two key signings: Joe Burgess and Thomas Leuluai. The key player here for me is Joe Burgess. Joe is a member of Wigan’s renowned academy. He made his debut for the club in 2013, scoring 52 tries between 2013 and 2015. Joe left Wigan at the end of the 2015 season for the sunnier climes of Australia and joined the South Sydney Rabbitohs. He returns in 2017 with unfinished business, having never being involved in a Grand Final victory. Leuluai, another player returning for Wigan this year, spent five seasons with the Warriors between 2007 and 2012, scoring 60 tries.
On to this weekends match, Wigan come up against NRL premiers Cronulla Sharks. Again, I’m not going to pretend to know too much about Cronulla. However, what I do know is that Cronulla took home the premiership trophy in 2016 after facing a determined Melbourne Storm in a tense 14 – 12 victory. In a game that looked set to finish with a Melbourne victory, Cronulla fought back with an outstanding defensive effort: key players such as Andrew Fifita were the obvious difference.
With a number of important players looking set to face the Warriors, including 2016 star players Paul Gallen, Luke Lewis and Andrew Fifita, Wigan are looking at an incredible battle to bring home the silverware.
To win this game, Wigan are going to have to be firing on all cylinders and they’re going to need to keep their emotions in check at the same time. At this stage, I can’t see past a Cronulla win but by a narrow margin. Here’s hoping Wigan can prove me wrong.
Prediction: Cronulla to win by 4 – 8 points.
Both of this weekends games are on TV. Be sure not to miss out:
Warrington / Brisbane: Sat 18th Feb, Sky Sports 1, 7.30pm
Wigan / Cronulla: Sun 19th Feb, Sky Sports 2, 2.30pm.