Penrith caught up in World Club Challenge drama amid ruling on Wigan rival

The Wigan star is free to face the NRL premiers despite coming under fire for the ugly incident.

Wigan halfback Harry Smith is free to play in the World Club Challenge against NRL premiers Penrith after escaping a ban over a lifting tackle. Pic: Instagram/Getty
Wigan halfback Harry Smith is free to play in the World Club Challenge against NRL premiers Penrith after escaping a ban over a lifting tackle. Pic: Instagram/Getty

Rugby league fans have hit out in disgust after Wigan halfback Harry Smith was cleared to face Penrith in the World Club Challenge, despite landing in hot water over a dangerous lifting tackle. Smith is free to play against the defending NRL premiers at Wigan's DW Stadium on Saturday night (Sunday AEDT) after escaping a ban for his spear tackle on Castleford's Luke Hooley in the Super League.

Smith was sent to the sin bin over the tackle but will not miss any matches after receiving a Grade B charge from the match review panel. It was ruled that "the unnatural actions of the tackled player significantly contributed to the outcome of the tackle", which explains why the Wigan halfback got off without a ban.

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Grade B charges generally incur a one-match ban, but previous conduct can be taken into account. Smith looms as a pivotal figure in Wigan's hopes of beating Penrith in Sunday's World Club Challenge and emulating the feat of St Helens from last year. The Wigan halfback has instead been hit with a $A480 fine over the controversial incident.

Smith's fine comes after explosive post-match claims from Castleford coach Craig Lingard, who claimed referee Tom Grant went against a recommendation from his video referee Jack Smith to send off the Wigan playmaker. The Castleford coach was fuming his own man Liam Watts was given a red card for a shoulder charge on Tyler Dupree, and insinuated Wigan's upcoming game against Penrith may have influenced the 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?”

Harry Smith ruling sparks backlash

The drama comes after Huddersfield Giants forward Luke Yates was recently hit with a three-match ban for a similar lifting tackle in pre-season. The Huddersfield player echoed the frustrations of league fans around social media after calling out the inconsistencies from the disciplinary panel.

“I’m not trying to speak for all players in the Super League, but consistency from the disciplinary panel would be very much appreciated," he posted on social media. “I am in no way saying the first two clips should receive punishment – the best Super League players need to be on the field throughout the season, and Harry and Adam absolutely deserve to play in the World Club Challenge this weekend.

“I am simply asking for clarification on why I have received a fine and a 3 game ban for tackling a player who then lands on his back, and the first two clips didn’t receive a suspension. I wouldn’t usually speak up on situations like this, but being silent on this issue isn’t an option.”

Luke Thompson ruled out in blow for Wigan

Wigan will be without Luke Thompson for the World Club Challenge after the former Canterbury forward copped a hit to the head and failed an HIA in the match against Castleford. It means Thompson has to see out a mandatory stand-down period, with his absence set to be a bog blow to Wigan and a boost for Penrith.

The Panthers arrived in Manchester on Saturday and had a day off on Sunday before kicking off their preparations by training at Premier League football giant Manchester City's Academy on Monday. Penrith are desperate to claim the club's first ever victory in the World Club Challenge, having lost the previous two years. Penrith's premiership teams of 1991 and 2003 also failed to defeat their British hosts.

Seen here, Penrith Panthers players in Manchester.
The Penrith Panthers have been afforded the chance to train at Premier League giant Manchester City's academy. Pic: Instagram

"Just seeing how much it meant to St Helens and losing that game did hurt," Penrith captain Nathan Cleary said about last year's defeat. "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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