At 6:30am on a Sunday morning, devout footy lovers in Australia flicked on the TV for the highly anticipated World Club Challenge.

The Penrith Panthers were up against the Wigan Warriors: a gripping showdown between two formidable rugby league powerhouses. The Panthers, coming off the back of a monumental NRL three-peat were eager to assert their dominance on the international stage.

The match kicked off in bone-chilling conditions at a mere 3 degrees Celsius and proved to be a nail-biter from start to finish with the lead changing hands multiple times.

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Former Parramatta Eels star Bevan French was dominant, showcasing his versatility and influence by setting up the opening try and coming agonisingly close to securing the match-winning points for Wigan.

Controversy brewed, with several touch-and-go referee decisions adding to the drama.

A missed Wigan foot on the touchline and a contentious try by Jack Wardle left fans on the edge of their seats.

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The Panthers adopted an ultra-conservative playing style, opting to run the ball on the last tackle and avoiding kicking, possibly due to the shorter in-goal dimensions of the English Super League field.

A cautious approach did not shield Penrith from a litany of errors, as uncharacteristic dropped balls and fumbled play-the-balls plagued their performance.

Wigan continuously executed resolute defensive structures that stifled the Panthers, employing a rushing-in style, effectively nullifying sweeping backline movements and drawing out pressure passes and mistakes.

Star winger Sunia Turuva was taken from the field with injury, which will make Penrith's aspirations of securing their fourth consecutive premiership even more challenging; leaving fans and coach Ivan Cleary with a nervous wait. The Panthers have already lost a number of key players, including Stephen Crichton to the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs.

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With the match all but wrapped up for Wigan, Taylan May appeared to score in the corner for the Panthers, potentially leveling the score at 16-16. The video referee ultimately deemed insufficient evidence to overturn the on-field decision, leaving the Panthers to rue what could have been.

Despite their undeniable success in the NRL including a rare three-peat, the World Club Challenge continues to elude the Panthers. The loss will no doubt light the fire needed to focus intently on season 2024.