The Australians remain the kings of world club rugby; Just. Over 24,000 watched a thrilling World Club Challenge clash, with the St.George Illawarra Dragons withstanding a strong Wigan Warriors start to fight their way to a six-point victory.
However, Michael Maguire’s gamble to play the injured Martin Gleeson (hamstring) backfired on Wigan with the England center forced to leave the action early. Things were little better for the Dragons though, with the NRL champions losing talented youngster, Cameron King, to a pectoral muscle tear sustained in the act of scoring the match winning try on 55-minutes.
Barely had the emotional impact of the minute’s silence for victims of the Christchurch earthquake sunk home than George Carmont was rising to pluck Paul Deacon’s kick out of the arms of Jamie Soward to dive in for the touchdown. It was just the start the Warriors wanted. Capitalizing on the slow-starting Dragons. Deacon converted and then added a penalty moments later.
That stung. And the Dragons roared back. Brett Morris sliding in at the left corner after Carmont’s knock-on turned the ball over early in the tackle count and deep in Wigan territory.
Matt Cooper, provider in the first score, then bagged a great score himself. Wigan were caught flat footed when the Dragons switched play to the blind side from a play the ball on the 15 and crashed over at left center for the score. Soward’s conversion edged the Australians in front.
It was a short lived lead though as a shocker of a pass from Harrison Hansen sucked in the St.George defence and Carmont scooped up the ball on the eleventeenth bounce to scorch over for his second try. Deacon’s third goal put Wigan 14-10 ahead. So much for a low-scoring battle.
The Dragons returned to their feasting on Wigan’s weak right flank with fullback Darius Boyd linking up on the break and sending Morris crashing through a three man tackle to level the scores.
Another break and kick ahead by Morris forced a line drop-out inside the final 5-minutes of the half, but Wigan cleared their lines and a solid kick from Sam Tomkins pegged the Dragons deep. And Tomkins was on hand as time expired in the half to snatch a drop-goal and edge Wigan into a 15-14 lead.
Was that the act of an attention-seeking tosser or of a wise-old-head? One point could win it at the end of the day; but only if Wigan find some defense to the Cooper-Morris axis.
The Dragons edged back in front after the break. A near-intercept by Darrell Goulding led to a knock-on and a repeat set on the Warriors line. Youngster Cameron King forced his way over from dummy-half for the score, with Soward converting. But the score was at a price, with King leaving the field with a torn-pectorl muscle moments later.
Soward cancelled-out Tomkins drop-goal with one of his own on ten minutes after a desperate ankle tap tackle by Joel Tomkins denied what looked a certain St.George try.
Wigan were gifted great field position when NIghtingale failed to defuse a Deacon bomb and ended-up conceding a line-drop out but but a sloppy pass from the Warriors saw the opportunity wasted.
Roberts gave them one last chance though when he stole the ball from Mark Gasnier in midfield. They almost made it count too. Sam Tomkins eking out a penalty in front of the posts from a grubber to the heart of the Dragons’ defence. But a wild pass to the right wing saw yet another chance wasted.
Solid Wigan defence ensure they got a final possession with 2 minutes remaining, deep in their own 20. Yet again they came up with the error, Carmont’s inside pass going to ground on the Dragons’ 40.
In the end the Dragons, lacking any NRL tune-up to date, fell back on their outstanding defence to see out the game and claim the title of World Champions.
Wigan: S Tomkins, Goulding, Gleeson, Carmont, Roberts, Deacon, Leuluai, Prescott, McIlorum, Coley, Hansen, Hoffman, O’Loughlin.
Subs: J Tomkins, Mossop, Farrell, Tuson.
T: Carmont 2
G: Deacon 3/3
D: Tomkins 1
St.George/Illawarra: Boyd, Morris, Gasnier, Cooper, Nightingale, Soward, Hornby, Hunt, Fien, Weyman, Scott, Creagh, Prior.
Subs: Greenfield, Merrin, Green, King.
T: Morris 2, Cooper, King
G: Soward 2/4
D: Soward 1