Warriors-Sharks date confirmed
Super League champions Wigan are to take on Cronulla Sharks while Warrington will face Brisbane Broncos in the 2017 World Club Series.
England head coach Wayne Bennett will bring his Brisbane Broncos team over to play Grand Final runners-up Warrington at the Halliwell Jones Stadium on Saturday, February 18 at 8pm, with Wigan taking on Cronulla in the clash of the champions at the DW Stadium at 3pm on Sunday, February 19.
Both games will be shown live on Sky Sports.
The annual World Club Challenge, which has been running since 2000, was expanded to a six-team competition two years ago but the NRL offered only a lukewarm response to invitations for 2017, with Grand Final runners-up Melbourne rejecting the idea outright.
That is a particular blow to Hull, who as Challenge Cup winners were hoping to make their debut in the World Club Series.
Privately, organisers are thought to be frustrated over the lack of support from the NRL clubs but say the official explanation for the reduction is due partly to the unique nature of World Cup year but also to accommodate the wishes of NRL clubs for a full pre-season.
Super League general manager Mark Foster said: “The Super League and its clubs have always been very supportive of international club rugby and the benefits it brings.
“If we are to continue to grow the sport to reach new audiences then we all need to work together to continue to produce these wonderful occasions.
“Cronulla and Brisbane have shown their commitment to doing this and the value that they place in taking part in the series and we are excited to welcome them to these shores in February.
“The 2016 Dacia World Club Series delivered some great rugby and I believe the 2017 Series will produce two games that will provide great entertainment for rugby league fans.
“We have worked hard with the NRL to produce a series that will not only excite fans but one that also allows all clubs in the NRL to have a full pre-season.”
Cronulla head coach Shane Flanagan said: “To have the chance to play over in the UK, for a World Club Championship is a great opportunity and one our club is really looking forward to.
“Then add to that the challenge of playing Wigan, one of the strongest and most famous clubs in the Super League and it will definitely be an outstanding experience.”
Wigan coach Shaun Wane said: “We are excited to welcome the Cronulla Sharks to the DW Stadium in February. They are a quality side who have shown that when under pressure they can come up with their very best rugby.
“Playing against the very best that the NRL has to offer will offer this squad a big test, but it is one I am confident they will rise to.
“We came very close to beating the Brisbane Broncos two years ago and the squad are very motivated to do well against Cronulla and hopefully win the World Club Challenge for the fourth time ever next year.”