ST HELENS will compete for the World Club Challenge when they play NRL champions Penrith Panthers at PointsBet Stadium on 18 February.
And they will also have the chance to claim a prize of A$100,000 if they can win the NRL’s pre-season competition against all the NRL’s 17 clubs.
The competition, which will be played for the first time this year, will take place over two weekends – 9-12 and 17-19 February – with each club playing on both weekends. St Helens’ first game in the competition will be against St George Illawarra Dragons in Wollongong on 12 February before they face the Panthers six days later.
There will be nine games each weekend, all of them to be broadcast live by Fox Sports in Australia, with a league table being compiled and the top team winning the A$100,000 prize.
The WCC fixture will be included in the mini tournament, with every team eligible to win the Pre-season Challenge and its cash prize including St Helens.
The competition will incorporate a number of scoring rules that are intended to reward attacking teams.
In each game, twelve points will be awarded to the winning team and none to the losing team, while both teams will be awarded six points in the event of a draw. There will be no golden-point games.
However, teams can earn up to three bonus points if they score five or more tries, make five or more line breaks or ten or more offloads, meaning that a successful club could earn 15 points from each match.
The winner of the Pre-season Challenge and the A$100,000 prize will be the team with the most competition points in the end, provided two teams are not equal.
In the event of a tie at the end of the competition, the NRL has introduced a series of tiebreakers to determine the overall winner.
Points for and against will be used to separate teams, and if they’re still equal it will then be decided by who has the greater percentage of points scored, most tries scored, most goals kicked, most drop-goals kicked and then least number of penalties conceded.
If after all this the teams still can’t be separated, it will come down to a coin toss.
Clubs will be able to name as many as 28 players for week-one matches and 26 for week-two matches with unlimited interchanges, although the World Club Challenge will have 17-man squads, with an 18th player for concussion protocols, and ten interchanges.
The one potential problem for the tournament is that the NRL still hasn’t yet signed a collective bargaining agreement with the Rugby League Players Association (RLPA).
The RLPA is expected to withdraw its cooperation with the NRL in relation to pre-season media appearances of its members and there is speculation that, if no agreement is forthcoming, there could be strike action that could impact upon the pre-season competition or even extend into the new season.
An article in the Sydney Daily Telegraph at the weekend even suggested that in the event of strike action, more than 160 players from the USA Championship Rugby League could be flown into Australia to help the clubs fulfil fixtures.