Wigan Warriors 22 Cronulla Sharks 6

Wigan Warriors celebrate their World Club Challenge win
Wigan Warriors celebrate their World Club Challenge win

Wigan clinched their fourth World Club Challenge title - and their first since 1994 - with a gutsy victory against Australian champions Cronulla.

Joe Burgess scored a hat-trick of tries but put this down to defence. This was a constantly bruising, frequently brutal, encounter and - at the end - Wigan emerged victorious.

More than 21,000 fans were at the DW Stadium to soak up the historic triumph.

For coach Shaun Wane, it was the one trophy available he had not won as coach, and the feat emulated his achievement as a player 30 years earlier.

In winning, Wigan became the first Super League side since Leeds in 2012 to claim the World Club Challenge. And coming just a night after Warrington’s fabulous triumph against Brisbane, it gave the Super League’s reputation a much-needed shot in the arm.

Wigan were terrific. There were errors in their display, but in terms of character, cohesion, togetherness, defensive resolve and digging deep into the energy reserves, they were incredible.

They absorbed everything thrown their way and harassed the NRL champion and, when it mattered, had the attacking polish to post four tries.

By half-time, Wigan had established a 10-0 lead from two Burgess tries. Touchdowns by Oliver Gildart and Burgess followed, but it was an edge-of-seat, nail-biting, nerve-shredding, ‘please-blow-the-whistle-now’ ending.

Wane had challenged his players to make history - and they did.

The build-up to the game took on a new complexion following Warrington’s 27-18 win against Brisbane the night earlier.

Wigan had the chance to go one step further, and from a selfish viewpoint, add a fourth World Club Challenge title to their honours roll to accompany the wins from 1987, ‘91 and ‘94.

There was no shortage of confidence in the build-up, thanks in part to Cronulla’s inexperience playing on these shores but mainly due to their own strength and stability.

French full-back Morgan Escare was the only ‘new face’ making his Wigan home debut, and Wane had the luxury of being able to leave out forward Willie Isa to accommodate John Bateman’s return from injury.

After a stirring start featuring two national anthems, the game began and Wigan looked the shakier, with two of their best players - George Williams and Sean O’Loughlin - making uncharacteristic errors.

But Lewis Tierney intercepted a Sharks threat, and from that point they grew in confidence, marching down field for Burgess to soar over in the corner. Morgan Escare’s conversion attempt drifted just wide.

The clashes between the sides were fierce and ferocious, and occasionally tempers boiled over - a skirmish between Jesse Raimen and Oliver Gildart triggered a brief scuffle.

Sharks coach Paul Gallen was constantly in referee Robert Hicks’ ear, while Wigan fans became irate at assistant coach Steve Price’s near-constant presence behind Cronulla’s players on the pitch.

There were few scoring chances, but a rare attacking raid in the 23rd minute allowed Burgess to double his tally, and his side’s lead, following smart approach work from Powell and Williams around the ruck.

Escare then struck the goal to make it 10-0.

Cronulla had the better of the territory, and had a try ruled out by video referee Phil Bentham - winger Kurt Capewell was adjudged to have grounded partly on the touch-ingoal line.

Wigan had few opportunities but they coped well with the attacks which headed their way, Williams’ defence particularly stoic.

They extended their lead in style. Escare scooped up a loose ball, crabbed across the Sharks defence, and fed Gildart with a nice pass. The centre still had work to do, but shrugged off Jack Bird’s attempted tackle to cross. Escare hit the difficult conversion to open up a 16-point lead.

With the fans turning up the volume from the stands, the home side grew into the contest.

But Cronulla were too good an opponent to fade away. They controlled the pace of the contest and, after failing to trouble Wigan with high-kicks, changed tact with Gerard Beale’s grubber into the corner for debutant Jesse Raimen to score.

Maloney’s conversion reeled in Wigan’s lead to 10 points.

Errors continued to blight their display, but they were contagious for both side, and the character and courage shown in defence made for compelling viewing as the game inched to the 70th minute mark.

Escare was off-target with a drop-goal attempt, but in a dramatic, seesawing finish, Burgess pounced to put the game to bed.

Wigan: Escare; Tierney, Gelling, Gildart, Burgess; Williams, Leuluai; Nuuausala, Powell, Flower, Bateman, Farrell, O’Loughlin. Subs: Tomkins, Clubb, Tautai, Sutton.

Cronulla: Beale; Raimen, Bird, Leutele, Capewell; Maloney, Townsend; Fifta, Brailey, Prior, Lewis, Graham, Gallen. Subs: Brown, Heighington, Bukuya, Tagataese.

Referee: Robert Hicks

Half-time: 10-0