The annual World Club Challenge pits the most successful club in the history of the fixture, Wigan, against the equal second-most (and equal most successful Australian franchise), the Roosters.
A win for Trent Robinson’s men would see them join Wigan on four WCC titles. One-time Roosters star Adrian Lam now coaches Wigan and will be out to plot the Roosters’ downfall and stretch Wigan’s dominance of the fixture to five titles.
The two clubs met just five years ago, with the Bondi club winning the 2014 event. Wigan however won the WCC more recently, downing the Sharks just two years ago.
Wigan have plenty of survivors from that match still on the roster while the Roosters have five of their own (Jake Friend, Boyd Cordner, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, Dan Tupou and Mitch Aubusson). Coach Trent Robinson has confirmed halfback Cooper Cronk is a confirmed starter after recovering from his shoulder injury in the off-season.
Wigan have yet to formalise a 17 but squad members who will likely be familiar to NRL fans include Test skipper Sean O’Loughlin, ex-Panther and Test regular Zak Hardaker, New Zealand Warrior turned Wigan Warrior Thomas Leuluai, one-time Eel and Shark Taulima Tautai, former Panther Jarrod Sammut, ex-Storm centre Willie Isa, ex-Rooster Joe Burgess, ex-Titans Joe Greenwood and Dan Sarginson, and Test pivot George Williams.
Aussie clubs struggled mightily in the fixture for decades, winning just four of 16 from its 1976 inception through to 2008, but have eight wins and just two losses since.
Zak Hardaker v James Tedesco. NRL fans didn’t see anything close to the best of Hardaker in his short stint at the Panthers in 2016. The 2015 Man of Steel would have played more than his current five Tests for England were it not for a chequered history off-field but at his best the 27-year-old fullback has a kit bag replete with silky ball skills and a superb running game. Campbelltown product Tedesco has been a tackle-busting prodigy since his first-grade debut but the improvement in his ball-playing and especially defensive capabilities in just a year under Robinson have been dramatic. Each is integral to their side’s success.
For the Warriors to win
Wigan have a bit of an early leg-up due to being at home and not having to travel, plus they are two weeks into the season so will have blown the cobwebs out in a loss to St Helens before last week’s big win over Leeds. Four of their six tries in that game were scored by their impressive forward pack; don’t expect the same against the Roosters’ notoriously staunch middle defence but Wigan’s pack and particularly their three starting back-rowers form an impressive rotation – if they can start fast against a pack that is impressive but low on match fitness they could kick on with it.
For the Roosters to win
As discussed by NRL.com columnist and one-time Roosters World Club Challenge winner Craig Wing recently, the biggest key for the Tricolours will be embracing the significance of the occasion and adapting to the frigid UK winter after training through a sweltering Australian summer. They have all their premiership playmakers on board and handy replacements for the small number of forwards and outside backs not backing up from the 2018 Telstra Premiership decider. If they can hit the ground running and are in the right frame of mind, this squad – which looked unbeateable against Melbourne just over four months ago – can beat anyone.
Warriors Stat Attack
The Warriors have no shortage of players who know how to win a WCC match – they could have as many as 11 players in the game day team who downed the Sharks in 2017.
Roosters Stat Attack
The Roosters are unbeaten in World Club Challenge outings, having won all three of their previous appearances (1976, 2003, 2014). Wigan may have one extra win but it’s come from seven games with three losses.
And another thing
Young Roosters playmaker Lachlan Lam – son of Adrian – is in the Roosters touring squad and is a genuine chance of making his Roosters top-squad debut against a team coached by his dad. It would be a lovely piece of symmetry given he played his earliest footy games in Wigan as a kid back when Adrian was an overseas player at the club in the early 2000s.
Head to head: Roosters 1-0
Previous result: Roosters 36 def Wigan 14 at Allianz Stadium in 2014
Televised: Monday, February 18, 6.05am (AEDT) live on Gem, Fox League & NRL Live Pass.
Roosters squad: Mitchell Aubusson, Nat Butcher, Lindsay Collins, Boyd Cordner (c), Angus Crichton, Cooper Cronk, Poasa Faamausili, Jake Friend (c), Ryan Hall, Matt Ikuvalu, Luke Keary, Asu Kepaoa, Lachlan Lam, Isaac Liu, Joseph Manu, Brett Morris, Victor Radley, Siosiua Taukeiaho, James Tedesco, Zane Tetevano, Daniel Tupou, Sitili Tupouniua, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves