St Helens stun Panthers to claim World Club Challenge

It has taken an English team to finally achieve a feat that has been beyond 15, soon to be 16, sides in Australia.

The title of ‘world’s best team’, and the $100,000 cheque that comes with it, has gone to St Helens. That they achieved the feat on foreign soil, as 7-1 outsiders, against an outfit that has dropped just 10 games in three seasons, will have huge ramifications for the English and local games.

Having won the World Club Challenge in the most dramatic circumstances, a Lewis Dodd field goal in golden point, St Helens can claim to be the world’s best. NRL clubs will also be buoyed by this; perhaps a Panthers side missing Apisai Koroisau and Viliame Kikau is beatable after all.

The merit of holding a pre-season competition in which a champion is crowned when everyone only plays two games will continue to be debated. However, no one can question the value of the addition of the Saints to the tournament.

They did it with only 45 per cent of the football, a testament to the grit of a side that has won its competition four times in a row. The Panthers threatened to steal it when Brian To’o scored late and Nathan Cleary nailed a pressure conversion to tie the game. However, Saints’ big names – James Roby and man-of-the-match Jack Welsby in particular – stood up in the big moments.

It didn’t take long for things to go awry for the Panthers. The weather dropped seven degrees in the 10 minutes before the game began, a southerly made the torrential rain fall sideways and it was lightning, rather than the predicted heat, that threatened to stall proceedings. Having travelled 17,000km, St Helens was made to feel right at home.

Jubilant St Helens players celebrate their dramatic win on Saturday night.Credit:NRL Photos

Things didn’t get much better for the hosts once the game kicked off; Moses Leota turned over possession while taking the opening hit-up.

It is said that a more adventurous style of play is adopted in the Super League. For proof, look no further than the opening try to Jack Welsby. A quick play-the-ball, a slick interchange of passing and the Saints raced 75 metres to post points. You’d pay a premium to see that on a dry track.

When St Helens three-quarter Konrad Hurrell barged over shortly afterwards, much like he has done countless times for the Warriors, the upset loomed large. They kept Penrith scoreless in the first half, thanks largely to two try-savers from Welsby. The tackle to deny Cleary – the Panthers skipper seemed destined to score from close range – was one of many highlights for the fullback.

Rattled as they trudged into the sheds at half-time, the Panthers had an additional five minutes to regroup. The extra break was granted to let the lightning pass, and Ivan Cleary’s men duly found their own spark.

Stephen Crichton gave the Bulldogs a sneak peek at what life will look like when he’s their No.1. He made a couple of uncharacteristic errors at the back, including one that handed Saints their match-winning opportunity. However, it was his last-minute bomb that sent the game into overtime and he will undoubtedly be a star in the position.

Taylan May has a knack for timing, as evidenced by the 22 tries he has already scored in the NRL, Even when struck down by injury – he copped a knee problem when victim of an ugly Agnatius Paasi legs tackle – he will have plenty of time to recover. The Samoan winger has two matches to serve of his suspended suspension and the club has a bye in round three.

However, this was all about the Saints, who will march all the way back to the northern hemisphere with the only piece of silverware that has eluded the Panthers.

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