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'Lying is a sin': To'o takes aim at Wardle, referee 'making assumptions' with contentious try as Wigan upset Panthers

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25th February, 2024
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The World Club Challenge lived up to the hype of a match that decides the global champions of rugby league with Wigan going toe to toe with Penrith before prevailing in a 16-12 boilover.

After three straight years of being kings of the NRL jungle, the Panthers are used to being hunted by fired-up opponents and Wigan, like St Helens in last year’s decider, brought their A game to the contest.

Unlike last year when the Panthers looked listless in going down by a point to Saints, they also looked strong in all areas despite this match being their first hit-out of 2024.

There was a high-quality intensity throughout the 80 minutes which was ultimately decided by a controversial refereeing decision to award a try to Wigan centre Jake Wardle.

In the 53rd minute Wardle looked to be caught short of the try line in a tackle from Edwards and Brian To’o after collecting a Jai Field grubber.

Referee Liam Moore surprisingly sent the ruling for review as a try despite being obscured where he was standing in the in-goal area and with no conclusive evidence to overturn the decision, the four-pointer was awarded.

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Wardle twisted in the defence and his ball-carrying arm was not on the stripe as it hit the ground twice before he tried to place it on the line. 

Former St Helens prop Kyle Amor questioned whether Wigan deserved to get the green light based on the available footage.

“It’s very very difficult to see how that ball gets over the line,” he said on Sky Sports commentary.

To rub further salt into the Panthers’ wounds, they claimed a try in the corner to centre Taylan May after a final flurry on the last play of the match.

He was swamped by a tackle from Jai Field and Abbas Miski in the corner and with Moore sending this similar incident up for review as no try, there was again insufficient evidence to overturn the decision and Wigan hung on to what will be one of the most famous wins in their club’s illustrious history.

Former English international James Graham said the referee “has made an assumption” while Sharks skipper Dale Finucane on Fox League “that’s hard to believe that the referee has got a definitive decision there that it has come over over the line”.

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To’o was adamant Wardle did not get the ball to the line, telling the Sydney Morning Herald after the game that the Wigan centre had hoodwinked the match officials.

“You can’t change much. The result is made, but he already knows he didn’t get it over the line. I’m sure the ref knows as well. Lying is a sin, as well,” he said.

“I already knew he didn’t get it down and when they awarded it, you’ve just got to move on. It is what it is. I’m happy for them. They can enjoy the win, and they deserve it, I guess.”

WIGAN, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 24: Jake Wardle of Wigan Warriors goes down before going over to score his team's third try during the Betfred World Club Challenge match between Wigan Warriors and Penrith Panthers at DW Stadium on February 24, 2024 in Wigan, England. (Photo by Lewis Storey/Getty Images)

Jake Wardle scores his team’s third try. (Photo by Lewis Storey/Getty Images)

Panthers coach Ivan Cleary conceded Wigan were the better side on the night irrespective of the refereeing.

“That’s the thing about this particular competition, we get to see the best teams together, and Wigan were too good tonight,” he told broadcaster Sky Sports.

“We didn’t execute as well as they did. They had three opportunities and scored three tries and that was the difference. 

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“They executed better than us and maybe that was enough.”

Penrith went into the final missing injured five-eighth Jarome Luai as well the latest members of their dynasty who were squeezed out by the salary cap in the off-season in Spencer Leniu, Stephen Crichton and Jack Cogger from their premiership team from October.

The first scoring play of the match went to a player who first made headlines at the 2017 World Cup for his uncanny resemblance to Penrith’s star winger at the time, Josh Mansour.

Lebanese international Abbas Miski held his width perfectly on the wing to accept a bullet pass from five-eighth Bevan French and tip-toed down the sideline for a 4-0 advantage in the eighth minute.

The Panthers responded in the 26th minute when Nathan Cleary hoisted a bomb and circled around to clean up the crumbs.

Wigan went 10-6 up eight minutes from half-time when former Titans hooker Kruise Leeming slid over after superb lead-up work from French with the former Parramatta utility back again combining with Miski for a right-side raid. 

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There were doubts over the pass from centre Adam Keighran to Miski but Moore had no hesitation in pointing to the spot.

The Warriors adopted tactics from Queensland’s State of Origin playbook by rushing up on Cleary for kicks on the last play and the star halfback was forced to pass to unsuspecting teammates or run the ball more than he wanted as Penrith were bustled into completing sets without getting to an attacking kick.

Penrith regained the lead just before the break when Dylan Edwards cut back against the grain to just get the ball down for a 12-10 advantage.

After the Wardle try, Penrith had a chance to regain the lead in the 69th minute when Taylan May broke free near halfway but the centre was chased down by Field’s grass-cutting tackle which sent him into touch just a couple of metres from the corner post.

Wigan looked to have sealed the shock result after a Tyrone Peachey play-the-ball error gifted them a scrum on halfway and they booted downfield for French to dive over under the posts.

However, the video referee created more controversy by ruling French was offside at the point of the kick even though there looked to be a line-ball call at worst.

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Another refereeing blunder swung the momentum with seven minutes left on the clock – Liam Martin stripped the ball from opposing forward Tyler Dupree but Moore incorrectly ruled it was a two-on-one tackle despite the other Panthers defender clear when possession was pinched.

Winger Sunia Turuva limped off with a leg injury late in the contest so he could be in doubt for Penrith’s Round 1 clash with the Storm in Melbourne.

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