Panthers handed huge boost as Wigan rocked by drama for World Club Challenge

The NRL premiers are aiming to make history in the blockbuster match against the UK champions.

Pictured left to right, former Bulldogs star Luke Thompson and NRL premiers the Penrith Panthers.
Former Bulldogs star Luke Thompson has been ruled out of Wigan's World Club Challenge against NRL premiers, the Penrith Panthers. Pic: Getty

The Penrith Panthers' bid to make history has been given a major boost after former Canterbury forward Luke Thompson was ruled out of Wigan's side for next weekend's World Club Challenge. Wigan have lost the veteran prop for the showdown against the three-time reigning NRL premiers after Thompson failed an HIA in his side's 32-4 win over Castleford on the weekend.

Thompson was forced from the field in the opening 20 minutes of Wigan's season-opening match in the Super League after copping a forceful blow to the head. The veteran prop then failed a head injury assessment, resulting in a mandatory stand-down that will see him miss Saturday night's (Sunday AEDT) blockbuster clash against Penrith at DW Stadium.

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“I thought the way he started the game, Luke, and the way he’d been in pre-season, he was looking excellent,” Wigan coach Matty Peet said. “It’s a blow but his health has to come first. He’s taken a whack on the head and I think the sport and other sports are getting used to these sorts of things and it’s the right thing for the players.”

Wigan could be dealt a double blow, with halfback Harry Smith in hot water after being sent to the sin bin for a lifting tackle that some felt should have been a send-off. The incident came after Castleford's Liam Watts was given a red card for a shoulder charge on Tyler Dupree, with Castleford's coach Craig Lingard questioning why the Wigan player wasn't also given his marching orders.

Castleford coach asks why Harry Smith avoided red card

In an explosive claim in his post-match press conference, the Castleford coach suggested referee Tom Grant went against a recommendation from his video referee Jack Smith to send off the Wigan playmaker. Smith would be a guaranteed starter for Wigan in the World Club Challenge against Penrith, with the Castleford coach suggesting it may have something to do with the referee's decision.

“What’s the difference between the contact on the Wigan player and Harry Smith picking someone up and dumping him on his head?” Lingard asked about the send-off of his own player, Watts. “I don’t want Harry Smith to get sent off but it has a massive impact on the game.

“I’m led to believe from the sideline that the recommendation from the sideline was that Harry Smith was a red card. And on the recommendation of someone else - the on-field official - it got reduced to a yellow card. Why?”

Smith could still ultimately be ruled out of the clash against the Panthers if the judiciary decides to take further action. Wigan's coach said they would accept whatever decision was handed down but said in the aftermath of the game that he hadn't had a proper chance to see replays of Smith's lifting tackle. “I was asked about Harry then - to be completely honest when you’re caught up in the game... I haven’t looked at it a great deal,” Peet said. “What will be, will be.”

Penrith Panthers out to create club history

The drama comes as Penrith aim to make history by winning the club's first World Club Challenge, despite being involved in the previous two editions and being the dominant club side in Australia for several years. No Penrith side of yesteryear has won the world title either, with premiership-winning teams of 1991 and 2003 both losing to their British hosts.

Jarome Luai is set to miss Penrith's World Club Challenge game against Wigan as he recovers from a shoulder injury. Pic: Getty
Jarome Luai is set to miss Penrith's World Club Challenge game against Wigan as he recovers from a shoulder injury. Pic: Getty

The Panthers' quest for history will come without star playmaker Jarome Luai after Penrith revealed last week that he was was not ready to return from a shoulder injury re-aggravated in last year's grand final win over Brisbane. Penrith captain Nathan Cleary says his side is desperate to end the club's World Club Challenge drought and said the hurt of losing last year's edition to St Helens is fuelling his men in 2024.

"Just seeing how much it meant to St Helens and losing that game did hurt," Cleary said. "We want to try to correct that this year. Obviously, over there will be a greater challenge in front of their home fans... That's why it's such a great opportunity for us. We as a club have never won it."

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