PANTHER TALES | World Club Challenge

The World Club Challenge was first played in 1976 as a one off match during the season between the 1975 NSWRFL premiers Eastern Suburbs and English Championship outfit St. Helens.

It was seen as a mild success, but would not return again until 1987 – this time straight after the NSWRL grand final in early October, where premiers Manly were invited to Wigan’s home ground at Central Park for a one off fixture.

It would not be until 1989 that it would be officially recognised as a play off against the champions of both major domestic competitions, with Canberra squaring off against Widnes, once again in early October.

Whilst officially recognised, the match was not played every season, with no match played in 1990.

The fourth match was scheduled for 2 October 1991 – the Panthers, who had won their maiden premiership less than two weeks before were asked to travel to England, to face off against the English powerhouse of Wigan, at the neutral venue of Anfield in Liverpool.

A try to Darren Willis off a pin point cross field kick from Greg Alexander was the only highlight as the underdone and weakened Panthers were humbled 21-4 by Wigan.

True to its previous scheduling, the next match would not be until 1994, with Brisbane this time hosting Wigan at ANZ Stadium.

The outbreak of the Super League war in 1995 saw this match easily discarded as one of the casualties of the conflict, and in 1997 saw the introduction of the World Club Challenge, which was expanded to include all Australasian and European Super League teams in a pool based round robin format – the Panthers won all six matches, but its inferior for and against saw them miss out.

The format returned in 2000, with the NRL premiers and Super League champions squaring off. It had been shifted to a January / February date, which by then was around the start of the Super League season, as they had shifted to a summer competition in 1997.

In 2004, the Panthers as the 2003 NRL premiers travelled to Huddersfield to play the 2003 Super League champions Bradford.

In cold and muddy conditions, Bradford were dominant with a solitary second half try to Luke Priddis being the only joy for the Panthers as they went down 22-4.

The matches would continue to be played as one off fixtures in the UK until 2014, when Wigan flew out to Australia and the 2013 NRL premiers Sydney Roosters hosted the fixture.

It was expanded to a multi-team format between 2015 and 2017 during February in the UK, with the final still played as its centrepiece but also involved other teams from each competition by way of invitation – Penrith were not one of these teams over this period.

It reverted to a one off final in 2018, hosted by the Storm in Melbourne before returning to the UK for 2019 and 2020.

Given the worldwide COVID pandemic and restricted travel, it was not held in either 2021 or 2022 – in 2022, the Panthers as 2021 NRL premiers would have played St. Helens, and whilst there was some enthusiasm for the match to go ahead [official reasons why it did not]

With Penrith going back to back in 2022 and with a sense of normality returning, the scene was set for its return. Soon after the premiership victory, its return was officially announced, with St. Helens to travel out to Australia, and the Panthers hosting the match at BlueBet Stadium. As part of their invitation, St. Helens were to participate in an 18 team pre-season challenge (with the 17 NRL teams), each team playing two matches, with a points system to declare a champion after each team had played their two matches. The World Club Challenge would also be the second match in this pre-season challenge.

A fierce storm hit Penrith just before kick off, and in wet conditions the visitors led 10-0 at half time and then 12-0 soon after the resumption. The hosts struck back with a try first to Izack Tago and then with only two minutes remaining Brian To’o crashed over, with Nathan Cleary’s conversion making it 12-all at full time. A dropped ball during the first period of golden point extra time gave St. Helens prime field position and did not waste it, drilling a field goal to win 13-12, and make it 0 from 3 for the Panthers in this format.


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