NRL winners Penrith Panthers ‘haven’t signed off’ World Club Challenge clash with St Helens

ST HELENS’ World Club Challenge participation was thrown into doubt last week by Penrith Panthers’ claim that they “haven’t signed off on the game”.

Reports in Australia said that the NRL Champions want $100,000 as compensation from the league for ditching their lucrative annual pre-season clash with Parramatta Eels to play Saints.

The Panthers are also believed to want a further $200,000 from the NRL that they feel entitled to, having seen prize money cut during the Covid pandemic for Grand Final winners.

Penrith’s chief executive, Brian Fletcher, told the Sydney Daily Telegraph: “We are waiting on details from Andrew Abdo (NRL chief executive) – we haven’t signed off on the game.”

Even if the Panthers do play, as still expected, there is a chance that they could do so without a number of their best players.

The NRL’s rules state that players are entitled to seven-to-eight weeks off after the end of their season, and must train for five weeks before making their first appearance of a new campaign.

That could potentially rule out the nine players who featured in the World Cup final – Nathan Cleary, Liam Martin and Isaah Yeo of winners Australia, plus Stephen Crichton, Spencer Leniu, Jarome Luai, Taylan May, Izack Tago and Brian To’o of runners-up Samoa.

The players themselves, however, are thought to want to play against St Helens, even if it means sacrificing the final of the leave they are entitled to take.

Saints, winners of the past four Super League crowns, are due to face the Panthers at the BlueBet Stadium on Saturday, February 18 next year, in a match to be televised live by Channel 4 in the UK.

It will be their eighth outing in the World Cup Challenge, with two wins to their name, after the fixture did not go ahead in each of the past two years.

They also plan to play a preparatory game against St George Illawarra Dragons the previous Saturday, which is likely to take place in Wollongong.

The trip will provide an early test for new Saints coach Paul Wellens, who has told the St Helens Star that he plans to take a squad of 26 players to Australia.

“Penrith is certainly a game that excites us as a club. It is an opportunity that a lot of Super League clubs don’t get,” said Wellens.

“Off the back of the success the team has had this last few years, it is an opportunity that they not only deserve but one that they have earned.”