PAUL WELLENS’ first official game in charge of St Helens will be against NRL champions Penrith Panthers in Australia – and he can’t wait.
The World Club Challenge is back on the Rugby League calendar and will take place at Penrith’s BlueBet Stadium on Saturday, February 18.
The big match kicks off at 6pm local time and in a first for fans in the UK, will be broadcast free-to-air by Channel 4 at 7am.
The broadcaster will also show that day’s Super League clash between Hull KR and Wigan live at 1pm.
Saints won’t be involved in the opening round of Super League, with their home game against Huddersfield yet to be rearranged.
And they are expected to have a warm-up game against St George Illawarra, probably in Wollongong a week before facing the Panthers.
Because of the knock-on effects of the pandemic, the showdown between the Super League and NRL champions hasn’t taken place since 2020, when Sydney Roosters won 20-12 at the Totally Wicked Stadium in Kristian Woolf’s fourth match at the Saints helm.
Now Saints, where Wellens has succeeded Woolf as coach, are looking ahead to the first WCC in Australia since Melbourne Storm beat Leeds 38-4 at AAMI Park in January 2018.
While Saints have won four straight titles, beating Leeds 24-12 in the Super League Grand Final at Old Trafford in September, Penrith claimed their second in succession be defeating Parramatta Eels 28-12 at the Accor Stadium in Sydney in the NRL showpiece at the start of October.
The first WCCC was played in 1976, when Saints were defeated 25-2 by Eastern Suburbs at the Sydney Cricket Ground, but it didn’t become a regular fixture until the late eighties.
Saints have been involved seven times so far, beating Brisbane Broncos at Bolton in both 2001 (20-18) and 2007 (18-14).
“Both ourselves and Penrith have had unrivalled success in recent years and we are relishing the opportunity to go over to Australia and test ourselves against what is undoubtably a great team,” said Wellens, who has stepped up from his role as assistant coach.
“It was disappointing that we’ve been unable to have this contest in the last couple of years, but great news not just for both clubs, but for the game as a whole, that the best teams in both competitions can once again compete in the World Club Challenge.
“We are obviously motivated by achieving further success and this gives us an early opportunity to do exactly that.
“We aim to represent ourselves, the town of St Helens and the Super League competition in the best possible manner.”