Saints to face strongest Penrith challenge

ST HELENS can expect to face the strongest possible Penrith Panthers side in this year’s World Club Challenge clash, after the Panthers revealed last week that its international stars who had featured in last year’s World Cup have sacrificed part of their holiday entitlement in order to play in the game.

The match will be played at Penrith’s BlueBet Stadium on Saturday 18 February and will be televised live in the UK by Channel 4.

The Panthers players who featured in last year’s World Cup Final, whether for Australia or Samoa, have all decided to return to training prematurely to ensure they comply with the health and safety requirements set out in the collective bargaining agreement between the NRL and the RLPA.

The rule states that players are ineligible to play in a match unless they have had six weeks of training prior to the game.

Nathan Cleary, Liam Martin, Isaah Yeo, Jarome Luai, Stephen Crichton, Brian To’o, Spencer Leniu and Izack Tago were all back in training last Monday morning, despite not having begun their annual leave until after the World Cup Final on 21 November.

In accordance with their contracts, they weren’t due back to training until 16 January, which would have given them insufficient time to face St Helens.

“The Panthers had a number of players represent their home nations at the most recent Rugby League World Cup with eight of our squad playing in the final,” Panthers chief executive Matt Cameron said.

“As a result, their mandated and well-deserved leave entitlements were pushed back into January. That being said, those players have now forgone part of their leave entitlements and have re-joined the main squad to be eligible for selection on the 18th of February.

“Although they are back at training, the club still has a responsibility to ensure they are match ready in time for the World Club Challenge and will be doing everything possible to get our best team possible on the park.

“It speaks volumes for the culture of this team and the character of the individuals,” Cameron said.

“They didn’t have to come back to training, but once again – as they have done throughout their careers – they’ve put the club and the team first. The hunger for success is what drives this team and it’s a credit to Ivan [Cleary] and the coaching staff for helping instil that mentality.

“We’re working hard to get every player available for selection in front of what we hope is a sell-out crowd in our own backyard. It’s very rare you get the opportunity to play a World Club Challenge at home, so we’ll be respecting that opportunity.”

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