Talking RL: Wigan’s win, World Club future... and an England contender

The force awakens! Oliver Gildart with a fan dressed as a Star Wars stormtrooper
The force awakens! Oliver Gildart with a fan dressed as a Star Wars stormtrooper

Wigan are World Club champions - it’s got a nice ring to it, don’t you think?

For all the success they’ve had over the years, they have had to wait a long time to claim the title as the best club side in rugby league.

George Williams, Lewis Tierney and hat-trick winger Joe Burgess weren’t born the last time Wigan won the crown.

John Bateman, my pick for man of the match, was in nappies.

In the same way older fans get misty-eyed at World Club memories - and I can recite most of Ray Warren’s commentary in ‘94 - these players can take great satisfaction from knowing they have left a permanent mark on the club’s history tapestry.

Wigan are now the only club to win the World Club Challenge four times.

And what a game it was.

Yes there were mistakes, but the spills created the thrills, and the brutality and sheer physicality more than compensated for the absence of attacking quality from both sides.

I can’t remember being more nervous than I was midway through the second-half.

There have been tighter scorelines, of course - but never when the stakes have never been as high.

In two games, Wigan have scored nine tries – eight of those have been down their outstanding left-edge

When Cronulla scored a try, I had that horrible ‘here we go again’ feeling in the pit of my stomach. It felt like so many Test matches we’ve endured.

But when it really mattered, Shaun Wane’s players dug deep, threw their bodies into tackles and called on the last of their energy-reserves to hang on for an epic win.

And take their place in the history books.

Coming just a day after Warrington’s brilliant win against Brisbane, it has - at the very least - given Super League’s reputation a much-needed shot in the arm.

Well done to all involved!

‘Super League could expand to Australia’, says the headline on the BBC website.

And I could win a Pulitzer prize. It’s possible, but it isn’t going to happen.

Look, I like the optimism. Really I do.

But please, this is a league in which two teams don’t have academy sides. Many more don’t have reserves. Those with reserve leagues aren’t satisfied.

It seems every time something good happens in the competition, all sense of reality is lost.

It was the same with the World Club concept.

Two brilliant results - and they were brilliant - sparked talk about not only securing the future of the series, but taking it abroad; America, Hong Kong.

Even Dubai, despite rugby league being illegal there.

I’m all for expansion, for pushing the boundaries, for breaking new ground, for attracting new fans.

Really, I am.

But let’s get the basics right first.

Remember, there was no NRL official at the World Club Challenge. The NRL didn’t even post social media updates, of a game in which one of their teams was going for a world title!

The game was played at a time the Australian audiences couldn’t really watch it. Neither could many English fans and players, because 22 other lower-league teams had matches at the same time.

When Wigan went to Sydney, it was even worse; their charity shield was on the same day, and there was no matchday programme at the game.

Obviously, by its nature, we can’t know which teams are involved until four months before the World Club Challenge.

But it doesn’t have to be so hand-to-mouth. There is nothing to stop getting a commitment now from everyone, sorting the location, the date, the time, the TV contracts, the number of games – and the criteria for qualifying, if it involves extra ‘Series’ games – and make sure it is done right.

I’m not saying, ‘Don’t think big’.

I’m saying that if your house isn’t in order, is doesn’t seem wise to build a massive conservatory on the back!

The off-the-cuff commentary on the World Club Challenge, provided by Sam Powell and Oliver Gildart, is a piece of comedy gold.

Their reactions to the ‘biff’ – “Get him off the field!”, “He thinks it’s UFC” – is great. As is their ability to poke fun at their team-mates and own mistakes.

If you haven’t seen it, press the play button on the embedded YouTube video.

In two games, Wigan have scored nine tries.

Eight of those have been down their outstanding left edge, which consists of Liam Farrell, George Williams, Oliver Gildart and Joe Burgess.

On Monday, three of those Farrell, Williams and Burgess - will head to an England training session. They’ve all played for England recently.

How long before Gildart is in that mix?

He scored two stylish tries against Salford and on Sunday, he was terrific.

He outclassed his opponent Jack Bird - a New South Wales Origin player, no less - and showed his mettle after being smashed high by Jesse Raimen, which incredibly went unpunished.

And while England have some quality at centre - Leeds’ Kallum Watkins, St Helens’ Mark Percival, and Dan Sarginson - I wouldn’t be surprised if Gildart soon forces his way into the reckoning.

Know what I like about Wigan’s fixture list this year? Variety.

The World Club Challenge reminded me how much I liked Sunday afternoon kick-offs. My son got to go to the game, for a start.

But I also like Friday night games, too. I like the mix. Wigan have two more Sunday home games in the next two months (it feels strange there are no Sunday Super League games this weekend).

And while made-for-TV Thursday nights are a huge inconvenience if your team is involved - and the Warriors have five of 23 - they’re great for neutrals.