The World Club Series – Superleague takes on the NRL

 Game 1 – Warrington Wolves v St George Illawarra Dragons

When I was booking my 6 Nations adventures I had a look at where I could go to for my live sport on the 2 break weekends. Imagine my delight when I realised that the World Club Challenge games were due to take place during the February break.

I managed to arrange 2 interviews while I was in the area – the 1st took place at Central Park and involved the Wigan Warriors Community Team.and talking about their wonderful work The 2nd with Tony Fretwell of the RFL to talk about Embedding The Pathway. in common with the Joey Grima interview they’ll follow on In The Loose.

Wigan is a long way from Chelmsford and yet a fairly painless drive in spite of taking in excess of 4 hours. I set off at 9:45 is having lingered at home for a bit longer than intended and arrived at Central Park at 14:15 after making a brief stop.

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2 very interesting interviews later I made my way to the Halliwell Jones Stadium, Tony had recommended a place to park that was in safe walking distance and a mere four pounds. I know Warrington quite well so it proved easy to find.

A short stroll to the stadium and arrived in plenty of time to find that my seat was virtually on the halfway line! A wonderful view! With over 13K people in the place what chance of 2 London Broncos fans sitting 2 rows in front of me!!

The teams arrived to much fanfare – I’d heard that Warrington coach Tony Smith had set up a bit of pre-match controversy suggesting there may be some ‘atmosphere’ between the 2 teams. And so at times during the game it proved to be the case!

St George Illawarra Dragons – that’s not an easy team for a young child to support – something of a mouthful! Have a team sheet with some very well known names – most notable for me – Benji Marshall and Gareth Widdop, both made their mark on the game

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Another notable point about the Dragons is that they must have the tallest player in rugby league and also the fattest in the top flight! Having discussed the build of top class players in the afternoon I was amazed to see a man who’d clearly eaten the whole team’s allocation of pies!

For some very strange reason the game of rugby league really brings out the fish wife in me – it’s a rare match that doesn’t have me shouting at the top of my voice! And this was to prove no exception. More of a match report than usual for these games.

The visitors scored early through Tyson Frizzle, Gareth Widdop added the extras with a great kick, it’s good to see an England player with such a good eye for the posts!

Next up for the try line was Gareth O’Brien with a superb solo effort – he backed himself and flew through the St George defenders to score – he duly added the conversion to his and his teams’ tally.

In a trading of scores it was Joel Thompson who scored for St George next – he seemed to get to the ball at the same time as the Warrington defender who looked to push the ball out rather than touch it down. Quicker thinking by the visitor saw a further 6 points added.

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I didn’t note too much down while the game was going on, but one of the moments of controversy that ensured a very fiery game, came next when the St George winger Eto Nabuli very nearly took Kevin Penny’s head off!

That was the moment my not very lady like yelling ensued! It looked like a straight red in the ground, but I’m told by a friend who was watching on the TV that it started on the shoulder – for me it was a dangerous tackle that was never going to be successful. All Ben Thaler decided to do was award a penalty!

My words at the time – ‘Should have been a red card and all the ref did was have a chat??? Kevin Penny nearly had his head taken off!!

Warrington were awarded with a try once the penalty had been taken when Ryan Atkins ran in to score. The conversion was missed.

The scores were evened up with an O’Brien penalty 20 minutes of the 2nd half remaining when Benji Marshall virtually matched Nabuli on the high tackle count, this time O’Brien was the target. I’d judge that this wasn’t as bad as the 1st ‘tackle’ but again feel that a yellow card should have been brandished.

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It was to be St George Illawarra who triumphed however as the same Benji Marshall put in a kick for Josh Duggan to run on to – Warrington hearts were broken as he touched down. The try was again converted taking the score to its final point – Warrington Wolves 12 St George Illawarra Dragons 18.

It was a hugely enjoyable game – some great skill with an added edge that so often happens in a rugby league match.

Game 2 –  Wigan Warriors v Brisbane Broncos

My 3rd of 5 games for the weekend took me to Wigan to watch part 2 of the World Club Series. Having been to Central Park a couple of times now I’m chuffed to say I can get to and away from the stadium via a traffic missing shortcut! Always good to miss the queue!

The parking situation wasn’t terribly clear, but that wasn’t too much of a problem with plenty of time to spare. I parked in the paid car park for £5 which felt pretty reasonable.

The more I learn about Wigan Warriors the more I understand the importance of the club in the town. I’d say nice a Wigan man (woman) aways a Wigan man, it was great to see some ex players on the pitch, especially Mick Cassidy and Shaun Edwards.

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The atmosphere in the ground was pretty amazing, a crowd of 20,842 makes a lot noise, there clearly were some Broncos fans in the place but they were hugely outnumbered.

Matty Bowen started the game, he was kicking to a team of NRL stars including one of the most recognisable men in rugby league – Sam Thaiday. It was quite a thrill to see him up close! He looked a tad chilly to say the least.

The first try was scored by Brisbane after Joe Burgess, heading to NRL after this season, lost the ball in the tackle on his own line after he failed to take a high bomb cleanly. Andrew McCullough needed no invitation to touch the ball down.

An easy try for the visitors also produced an easy 2 points for Corey Parker. a gifted lead of 6 points and lots of derision for Burgess, he may have a hard season ahead of him.

In common with the Warrington game this ‘friendly’ soon had an edge, as the teams exchanged a few handbags and got better acquainted. A father and son were sitting behind me and one of them yelled out – ‘Let’s have a fight, because the rugby’s rubbish!’ – Not really the case, but the aggro certainly added to the atmosphere and grit!

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Wigan were next on the scoreboard as Liam Farrell ran onto a George Williams grubber kick – it looked a blatant try from the stands – an age after it was scored the TMO and Mr Bentham agreed! Matty Smith scored the conversion – the comment from behind? ‘I could back heel that over!’

There were 2 notable events before half time – a penalty was awarded in the scrum – which is almost unheard of! And we had another of those high shots! Corey Parker became the focus of a lot of Wigan attention as the perpetrator, but again, no card! Perhaps high shots are allowed now? I think not!  Wigan defended a strong attack from the Broncos and the teams went in at 6 apiece at half time.

The 2nd half saw Joe Burgess drop the ball again – and again I have to go to the comment from behind – I imagine on a weekly basis these guys would drive you mad, but ooh they made me laugh! “Put a bell inside the ball so he knows where it is!”

Having defended 2 sets in the 1st half Wigan couldn’t do the same when battered in the 2nd – Broncos put in a string of quick fire passes to see Lachlan Maranta score in the corner. That left a hard kick for Parker, he failed to add the 2 points.

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However poor discipline by Wigan close to their own posts gave Parker an easy penalty to score the missed 2 points. Anthony Milford made a superb run up the middle of the field, and that was noted as my best moment of the game until Joe Burgess intervened again.

Burgess showed his true skill as a winger, he ran virtually the length of the pitch, passing inside to George Wiliams before taking the ball back, he ran in to score, moving closer to the posts to give Smith an easier kick. He suddenly turned from zero to hero!

Matty Smith scored with 17 seconds remaining on the clock the scores were even on 12 apiece! Now that felt like a fair result, although Broncos had probably edged it on the night. However extra time was the plan.

My notes say that we had a spell of – rubbish drop goal attempts! I actually think I could have made a better effort with one of them, with heels on! However the game was to be decided by an error. It looked like a high tackle in the ground but seems Wigan were penalised for a ball steal right in front of their posts.

Corey Parker lined up the kick, his 1st attempt was charged down by Anthony Gelling, who was shown yellow of this troubles. The 2nd attempt sailed over and the game finished with something of an anti-climax. Wigan Warriors 12 Brisbane Broncos 14.

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Living in Essex I couldn’t stay for Game 3 – but looking at the result St Helens 0 South Sydney Rabbitohs 39 tells me it was a hugely one sided game!  I will watch it his week, but can’t think I’ll write any sort of report.  I thoroughly enjoyed the games I saw, ooh I love rugby league!!

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