Super League champions St. Helens travel to Australia to face Penrith Panthers of the NRL

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After two seasons with no World club challenge due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the hotly anticipated event is back on the rugby league calendar.

On the 9th November 2022, it was announced that the World Club Challenge would make its first appearance since 2020, being staged in Sydney, Australia on the 18th February 2023.

Hosted by Penrith Panthers, who won the NRL in 2022 becoming back-to-back champions, with many people branding them as one of Australia’s best ever sides. On the other hand, the 2022 Super League champions St. Helens have also been branded as English rugby league’s best ever side by many, due to their dominance of the Super league over the last few years.

The World Club Challenge has had an inconsistent history, as it hasn’t been played every year. Furthermore, it has always divided the opinions of rugby league fans, officials and clubs. But whether you love it or loath it, there’s no denying that it creates a lot of excitement and has been good for the sport.

First played in 1976 and since played 28 times, St. Helens appeared in the first and last editions of the contest before this one. In fact, they have competed seven times in total, but have only been victorious on two occasions, with the last one of those being in 2007.

Penrith have never won the World Club Challenge having lost in both of their appearances in 1991 and 2004, so they will be hoping they can taste their first victory on home soil. As it stands the English clubs have won 13 of the 28 matches, with the majority of those coming in the early 2000’s. Over the past decade it has been Australian dominance, as the Super League sides have only won twice since 2008.

Penrith and St. Helens have never played a competitive fixture before, adding to the already long list of why Saturday’s game will be a classic. They’re two star studded sides that look a class above the rest of their respective divisions, but it will Penrith as the bookies favourites.

Neither team has changed drastically over the Winter period, so Saturday’s showdown is truly between two Premiership sides. Despite there being a full off-season before the fixture, both sides have been preparing with warm up matches and vigorous training in the Australian climate.

The kick-off time of the match has been delayed by almost an hour for player welfare reasons. However, the delay will not be long enough to combat all of the extreme heat. St. Helens will not be as used to those type of playing conditions, giving Penrith another advantage on the night.

As for the team news, both clubs have named mostly the same 22-man squads that had such great success in 2022. Penrith will be without two of their key players – Fullback Dylan Edwards and forward Liam Martin both picked up pre-season injuries. Meanwhile, Saints welcome back Morgan Knowles to their squad, but they’re without forward Joe Batchelor, who was recently seen wearing a knee brace.

Penrith coach Ivan Cleary will rely on his son and star half-back, Nathan Cleary to perform to his usual high standards on Saturday, being one of the most consistent players in the world. He had the best try assist percentage in the NRL last year, averaging 1.1 per game.

Saints boss Paul Wellens will be hoping he can also lean on his star half-back, Jonny Lomax who has been performing at an excellent level for years, leading his side to glory and becoming one of the greatest players in Super League history.

Full 22-man squads (in shirt number order)

Penrith Panthers: Stephen Crighton, Taylan May, Izack Tago, Sunia Turuva, Brian To’o, Jarome Luai, Nathan Cleary, Moses Leota, Mitch Kenny, James Fisher-Harris, Luke Garner, Zak Hosking, Isaah Yeo, Jack Cogger, Matt Eisenhuth, Spencer Leniu, Jaeman Salmon, Lindsay Smith, Kurt Falls, Liam Henry, Tom Jenkins, Mavrik Geyer.

St. Helens: Jack Welsby, Tommy Makinson, Will Hopoate, Mark Percival, Jon Bennison, Jonny Lomax, Lewis Dodd, Alex Walmsley, James Roby, Matty Lees, Sione Mata’utia, Morgan Knowles, Joey Lussick, Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Curtis Sironen, Agnatius Paasi, Jake Wingfield, James Bell, Dan Norman, Ben Davies, Konrad Hurrell, Tee Ritson.

The highly anticipated match will kick-off at 18:50pm local time, meaning 07:50am UK time, and will be shown on Sky Sports Main Event and Channel 4. We would suggest setting your alarms for an early Saturday wake up to watch what should be an absolute cracker.

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