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Rugby League: World Club Challenge can usher in a new golden era for Wigan Warriors admits director

Wigan’s sold-out World Club Challenge clash with Penrith Panthers next month could herald the start of a new golden era for the club, according to executive director Kris Radlinski.

The club announced on Monday that no more tickets are available for the February 24 showdown, a level of interest seldom seen since almost 37,000 packed into the old Central Park to watch Ellery Hanley inspire an 8-2 win over Manly in 1987.

Wigan will be looking to emulate St Helens’ stunning win over the NRL champions in Australia at the start of last season and further tilt the balance of power in the global club game in favour of the northern hemisphere.

“To sell out so far in advance is unprecedented and I’ve probably not felt this kind of excitement for 30 years,” Radlinski, who made 322 appearances for the club between 1993 and 2006, told the PA news agency.

“It’s a great opportunity for our players to write their names into the Wigan history books against one of the best teams the NRL has produced. The Manly game was an “I was there” moment, and it’s exactly what we need more of in our sport.

“I’ve been in the game long enough to experience ups and downs but there’s a great spirit in the club at the moment. We’ve got a real connection with the fans and an outstanding head coach, and it really does feel like something special.”

Close-season additions of the likes of former Leeds pair Kruise Leeming and Sam Walters plus Catalans Dragons winger Adam Keighran, who started his career with Penrith, have cemented Wigan’s status as the team to beat for the 2024 campaign.

And they are relishing the prospect of kicking off by testing themselves against a Penrith side still smarting from last season’s loss to Saints, when Lewis Dodds’ golden point drop-goal claimed an implausible 13-12 win in Sydney.

“The Super League owes a massive thank you to St Helens for what they did, not just against Penrith but over the last four years in pressurising the rest of us all to raise our standards,” added Radlinski.

“It was an outstanding match last year when Saints won it, and the pressure is now on us to try to repeat the feat. Whatever happens it is going to be an outstanding occasion and the anticipation around the town is something else.”

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