ST HELENS’ World Club Challenge clash with Penrith Panthers has finally been inked onto the schedule – with tickets for the big match at the BlueBet Stadium now on sale – much to the delight of Saints skipper James Roby.
Penrith put a question mark against the eagerly-awaited return of the fixture between the NRL and Super League champions when chief executive Brian Fletcher revealed his club hadn’t “signed off” the contest, which has been absent from the fixture list since 2020 due to the pandemic.
But, as originally announced, it will take place on Saturday, February 18, kick-off 6pm local time (7am in the UK), and be the first of two matches screened live that day by Channel 4, who are also showing the Super League showdown between Hull KR and Wigan (1pm).
Saints, who will also face St George Illawarra Dragons when in Australia (on Saturday, February 11) will fly back following the Penrith meeting and appear live on Channel 4 at Castleford the following Sunday (February 26).
That will be their first Super League match, marking a hectic start as head-coach for Paul Wellens, who has stepped up from assistant to replace Kristian Woolf as Saints set their sights on a fifth successive title.
While Ivan Cleary led Penrith to consecutive NRL Grand Final wins (over South Sydney Rabbitohs last year and Parramatta Eels this time around) after a defeat by Melbourne Storm in 2020, St George finished tenth under Anthony Griffin this season.
They have lost experienced forwards Tariq Sims (to Melbourne), Josh McGuire (Warrington), Andrew McCullough (retired), Jackson Ford (New Zealand Warriors), Jack Gosiewski (North Queensland Cowboys) and ex-England and Wigan man George Burgess (retired).
But Griffin has some promising young forwards coming through the ranks, including Dylan Egan and Aaron Johnson, who are on NRL train-and-trial contracts.
The game against Saints will be at the WIN Stadium in Wollongong (kick-off 8.05pm local time, 9.05am in the UK) which, along with the Netstrata Jubilee Stadium (Kogarah Oval), is one of two venues used by the club formed in 1998 by the merger of St George Dragons and Illawarra Steelers.
Roby told the St Helens Star: “To go over to Australia for a couple of weeks and play St George Illawarra in the warm-up and then Penrith in the World Club Challenge is a great way to start the year.
“It is a reward for our hard work and the success we have had this past few years. The challenge is there and we are quietly confident in our own ability.”