16th February 2017, 10:30 | Wigan

Key Battles: Wigan Warriors v Cronulla Sharks

Key Battles: Wigan Warriors v Cronulla Sharks

Betfred Super League champions Wigan are looking to win their first World Club Challenge since 1994 when they face NRL premiers Cronulla Sharks at the DW Stadium on Sunday.

We look at where the game may be won and lost.

 

KEY BATTLES

Sean O’Loughlin v Paul Gallen

Two experienced and respected leaders for their clubs, Sean O’Loughlin and Paul Gallen have been stalwarts and an integral part of their respective sides for the past 15 years.

Former Australia international Gallen is a fierce competitor and leads from the front for the Sharks.

The 35-year-old made his NRL debut in 2001 and has remained loyal to Cronulla ever since with the overawing emotions evident at the final whistle of the club’s first Grand Final win last October.

Gallen has not shirked responsibility towards the end of his career either, making 392 carries for the club last year as part of his 20 appearances.

O’Loughlin also leads by example for Wigan and the Warriors captain is looking for a fresh start this season following an injury-hit end to 2016.

The 34-year-old featured in the Grand Final last October but missed the Four Nations series and will be looking to prove on the world stage that he is still one of the best loose-forwards in the sport. 

Paul Gallen has made 279 appearances for Cronulla since his debut in 2001

James Maloney made his Australia debut in the 2016 Four Nations

 

George Williams v James Maloney

Two stand-offs who have impressed over the last couple of seasons are George Williams and James Maloney.

Williams may only be 22 but he has already developed into one of Super League’s best stand-offs.

The half-back scored a superb solo try at the weekend in the win over Salford as well as placing a pinpoint kick for Joe Burgess to collect and score.

Playing alongside Thomas Leuluai this season will help improve Williams’ game further and the pair should form an exciting half-back partnership.

After moving from Sydney Roosters at the start of last season, James Maloney was instrumental in leading the Sharks to their first NRL title.

A goal-kicking genius, Maloney scored 219 points last season and his vision, creativity and directional play will create plenty of problems for Wigan.

Maloney made his Australia debut in the Four Nations win over Scotland last October and is in line to replace Johnathan Thurston as the Kangaroos’ stand-off once the 33-year-old walks away from international Rugby League at the end of 2017.

 

Liam Farrell v Wade Graham

Two fearless second-rowers who give everything for their sides are Liam Farrell and Wade Graham.

Farrell has become one of Wigan’s most consistent and reliable performers since his debut for the club in 2010.

The second-rower’s man-of-the-match Grand Final display helped the Warriors to their fourth Super League title and his work rate and determination going forward and in defence is revered.

One of the toughest competitors in the NRL, Wade Graham’s work ethic in both attack and defence is sensational and his contribution is paramount to the club.

Graham had his most successful season with the Sharks last campaign and his professionalism and leadership qualities have also seen him touted as a future captain of the club once Paul Gallen retires.

Wade Graham was crucial to the Sharks' successful 2016 campaign

Joe Burgess marked his return to Wigan with a try against Salford last Saturday

 

Joe Burgess v Jesse Ramien

Cronulla’s main weakness on Sunday will be out wide and Shaun Wane will look to his outside backs to put his team on the front foot.

Injuries to first choice wingers Valentine Holmes and Sosaia Feki have left the Sharks short of options with 19-year-old Jesse Ramien set to make his competitive debut in the World Club Challenge.

Ramien will have to rise to the occasion to prevent Joe Burgess from being at his prolific best for Wigan.

The winger has returned to the Warriors this season following a year in the NRL and marked his comeback with a try against Salford last weekend.

Burgess’ blistering speed is his biggest asset and will utilise any space he finds himself in out wide to cause the opposition damage.

 

Coaches' Corner

Both coaches are determined to win the World Club Challenge on Sunday and see their side named the best club in world Rugby League.

For Shaun Wane the trophy is the only piece of silverware to elude him during his five years in charge at the Warriors.

Wane was part of the Wigan side that beat Manly in the 1987 World Club Challenge and he has invited some of his former teammates from that side to speak to his players this week about the importance of the game to the town.

Shane Flanagan guided Cronulla to their first NRL title in their 50-year history in 2016 and he now has the chance of making more history by seeing his side become world club champions.

The 51-year-old has turned the club’s fortunes around in the last two seasons and he will be looking for his side to complete their pre-season with a win over Super League champions Wigan.