Sport Writer Bella Shepherd-Evans reports on the final of the World Club Challenge, where English side St Helens came away victorious
Under the lightning-filled skies of New South Wales, Lewis Dodd kicked the English side to victory in a dramatic golden point win over Penrith Panthers. For St Helens, this victory over the defending National Rugby League champions is the crowning accomplishment in what has been a golden run for the Super League side. Last season saw the club take their fourth Super League trophy in a row, beating Leeds Rhinos 24-12. With the 2023 season getting underway this past weekend, it’s not hard to question if there is any Super League side that can challenge Saints’ dominance on home soil.
Down under, however, it’s a different story. Heading into the game, St Helens were well and truly the underdog. Penrith Panthers’ squad boasted seven players who featured in the World Cup final late last year, not to mention player salaries almost three times those of the English side. St Helens’ squad was made up of both established legends, and exciting new talent. At 37 years of age and with over 500 games under his belt, Captain James Roby led his side out in what would come to be one of the greatest games of his illustrious career.
From the first whistle St Helens held their own, quieting any voices that doubted their strength against the back to back NRL champions in the run up to the game. A composed defence managed to keep the star-studded attack of the Panthers at bay, whilst youngster Jack Welsby commanded Saints’ attack. A skilled ball from Jonny Lomax saw off Curtis Sironen to break through the home side’s defence. He then passed off onto Welsby to score the first try of the night – just one aspect of an exceptional performance that earnt the 21 year old man of the match. Bolstered by their early lead, Saints continued to relentlessly breakdown the Panthers defence, with Konrad Hurrel charging over the line to put the visitors 10-0 up at half time.
On home soil, and with an extended half time break due to bad weather, the panthers were expecting to respond. And respond they did. A penalty given in the opening minutes of the half allowed Percival to go for goal and extend St Helens’ lead to 12. Yet the NRL side managed to scramble their attack into Saints half early in the phase count. Eyeing space behind the English side’s defensive line, Penrith Panthers captain Nathan Cleary kicked up and over, picked up by Izack Tago to earn the Aussies their first points of the match. As the clock counted down, it looked like St Helens would just about hold on for the win.
But, in the 78th minute, an attacking push by the Panthers allowed for an offload to Clearly, who once again kicked up towards the try line. The high ball was received with a fumble by Welsby, and bounced into the waiting hands of Brain To’o who dived over for a Panthers try. A conversion by playmaker Cleary evened up the scoreboard, just as the buzzer sounded for full time. It would go to golden point.
The home side took possession as the five minutes of golden point began. In a play that had granted them success in the second half, the Panthers diverted an attack to Cleary, who put a kick up once more. It came down within the St Helens try line, which the waiting Percival initially struggled to control, but brought it back into play. Now on the attack, Saints managed to work into the Panthers half and send it up. Despite taking the ball well for the Aussies, Stephen Crichton then knocked it on, and a penalty was given for St Helens. Victory was now within their reach.
In the third phase, Roby played out to Dodd who went for goal and secured St Helens the Club Challenge win. Having missed most of last season out with an achilles injury, there couldn’t have been a better golden point scorer to sum up what was a deserved whole squad achievement. St Helens lifted the trophy, marking the first time an English team has travelled over and beaten an NRL side since Wigan’s victory in 1994 over Brisbane.
This weekend’s triumph will go on to outshine that of the 90s, and live on as one of the greatest performances by a Super League side.
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