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World Club Challenge: Penrith Panthers v St Helens preview

The World Club Challenge takes place this weekend in a clash between the winners of the Super League in St Helens and the champions of the NRL in the Penrith Panthers.

Saints make the journey to Australia following a fourth successive Grand Final triumph where they defeated Leeds Rhinos 24-12 at Old Trafford. 

Tries from Matty Lees, Jon Bennsion, Konrad Hurrell and Mark Percival were enough to down the Rhinos as the Merseyside outfit continued to be the dominant force in Super League. 

However, this weekend will be a completely different challenge as they take on Penrith Panthers, who were victorious in the NRL Grand Final last season. 

They overcame Parramatta Eels 28-12 to set up the first Club World Challenge contest for three years and they are the heavy favourites to win in a match that is set to be played in very hot and humid conditions.

WhatPenrith Panthers v St Helens 
WhereBlueBet Stadium, Penrith
When07:50 Saturday 18th February
How to watchChannel 4 and Sky Sports Main Event
OddsPenrith Panthers 9/100,  St Helens 13/2

Saints look to break NRL dominance 

The NRL is widely regarded to be a higher-quality competition than the Super League and that has been reflected in scorelines from the past editions of the Club World Challenge. 

The Australian team has won seven of the last eight matches with Wigan Warriors the outlier - Shaun Wane guided his team to victory over Cronulla Sharks in 2017 with a 22-6 scoreline. 

St Helens were bested at the Totally Wicked Stadium in 2020 the last time the competition was held, as they were beaten by the Sydney Roosters 20-12. 

Many of the players who played that day, such as James Roby, Alex Walmsley and Tommy Makinson are still at the club and will be seeking to avenge that loss. 

Saints did warm up with an impressive 30-18 win against St George Illawarra Dragons last weekend and scored five tries in the process so they will have been given a confidence boost from that. 

However, the Dragons ended the season 10th with 12 wins and 12 losses while Penrith won 20 of 24 in the regular campaign, so this one will be tougher.

Wellens set for his first big test 

There was a change in coach at St Helens over the summer with Kristian Woolf departing in order to become Wayne Bennett's assistant coach at the new NRL club Dolphins. 

Rather than go down the southern hemisphere route which they have done in their last two coaching appointments (Woolf and Justin Holbrook), they have handed the job to one of their most successful ever players in Paul Wellens, who represented the club his whole career between 1998 and 2015. 

The former full-back won five Super Leagues, five Challenge Cup and two World Club Challenges during his time at his boyhood club and has been a serial winner which will only help. 

He has served his apprenticeship as an assistant at both Saints and England, working alongside Bennett, Wane and Steve McNamara so he will not feel like a complete novice when becoming the main man. 

Former Catalans boss Laurent Frayssinous will join him as an assistant to add to the strong coaching line-up as they attempt to win yet another Super League crown.

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Saints sticking with tried and tested 

While many other clubs have been doing plenty of transfer business in the off-season, St Helens' squad has been virtually unchanged in terms of incomings. 

Only two new players have come through the door - winger Tee Ritson has joined on a season-long loan from Championship outfit Barrow Raiders, while centre Wesley Bruines has arrived on a one-year deal from South Sydney Rabbitohs. 

Neither player is expected to be first-choices in the squad this season so Saints may be taking a risk in terms of their recruitment strategy. 

In terms of outgoings, the departure of Regan Grace to French rugby union outfit Racing 92 is a big blow, while experienced prop Kyle Amor has left for pastures new, joining up with Championship side Widnes Vikings. 

The evergreen skipper Roby will continue at hooker and all other players will resume their expected roles so Saints are banking on continuity being their friend.

Panthers full of dangerous players 

The Panthers were by far the best teams in the NRL last season and were incredibly tough to beat as they went on to win the title for a second year in a row. 

Coached by Ivan Cleary, the Sydney-based side are stacked full of talent with Cleary's son Nathan the current captain and playmaker at half-back. 

Last season, Taylan May scored 16 tries from out wide and he will also be one to watch out for in this intriguing contest.

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