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Rugby League: Wigan Warriors boss makes Penrith Panthers admission ahead of World Club Challenge

Matt Peet was two years old when Wigan beat Manly in front of a crowd approaching 40,000 at the old Central Park to be crowned world club champions for the first time.

Peet has been steeped in the history of that famous night over 37 subsequent years, in which he has risen steadily through the club’s ranks to the point where he will be tasked with repeating the feat against reigning NRL champions Penrith Panthers later this month.

The home-grown head coach led his side to the Challenge Cup in his first season in charge in 2022 before steering them back to the summit of the domestic game in October with a 10-2 Grand Final victory over Catalans Dragons at Old Trafford.

And Peet admits it is difficult to ignore the “outside noise” of the February 24 fixture against Penrith, the two-time defending NRL champions who will arrive still hurting from their stunning defeat to St Helens in Sydney at the start of the last campaign.

“Our town cries out for big events – music concerts, football matches, and rugby league games like this, and we take a lot of pride out of being involved in these sorts of occasions,” Peet told the PA news agency.

“It’s not something you really aspire to. As a coach, you set out thinking about reaching a Grand Final, and the reward for winning that is getting this opportunity against one of the greatest teams of all time.

“It’s impossible to ignore with all the noise and energy about the game. Everyone in the town is talking about it and it’s already sold out. The players should not be lacking in motivation and they know they’re going to get a test very early in the year.”

Having preached a message centred on constant, in-house improvement since replacing Adrian Lam in 2021, Peet is understandably unfazed by most pre-season predictions that make Wigan strong favourites to repeat when the new Super League season kicks off in a less than a fortnight’s time.

The respective arrivals of former Leeds pair Kruise Leeming and Sam Walters, plus ex Catalans centre Adam Keighran and NRL prop Luke Thompson, constitute stunning close-season business for a club who ended St Helens’ four-year reign of domestic dominance.

But despite the seeming shift in the balance of power he has engineered, Peet shrugged: “It doesn’t feel very different, to be honest – it’s another year to build, improve, develop.

“There’s always an expectation. In my first year I was getting asked about it because I was new, last year was about building on the Challenge Cup, and this year it’s about building on the Grand Final.

“It’s certainly a good indicator when we talk about the World Club Challenge and about us being favourites for Super League. But really, you’re always just looking to improve, and that’s why the feeling you have when you come into work doesn’t change that much.”

The names of many of the players who beat Manly – Ellery Hanley, Henderson Gill, Shaun Edwards, Shaun Wane – continue to trip off the tongue among the cherry-and-white diehards, and Peet knows a similar success later this month will add another chapter to the history of both his club and the broader British game.

“Saints winning there last season, us potentially winning, England getting positive results, Super League, IMG – all this vibrancy around the game helps to create a healthier package, bigger finances and better contracts,” said Peet.

“But it all begins with your community engagement and investment. It’s a snowball effect, and how it starts is by questioning yourself first. Are we doing things right – myself and the club? And then you can worry about the game.”

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