Ellery Hanley previews World Club Challenge

Lucy Gordon

Ellery Hanley believes a lack of match practice may cost Sydney Roosters dear in Saturday’s Betfred World Club Challenge.

The reigning National Rugby League champions take on current Betfred Super League winners St Helens for the prestigious trophy, as Roosters bid to become the first side ever to clinch the silverware five times.

Hanley, a former World Club Challenge winner himself as his Wigan Warriors side toppled Manly Warringah 8-2 in the 1987 final, had a glittering career where he made over 380 appearances in English domestic action.

And the 58-year-old year-old, who is now chairman of Super League’s hallmark Man of Steel panel, says Saints’ superior preparation – the NRL does not start until March whereas the Super League season is already underway – will stand them in good stead.

“It’s going to be a difficult game for the Sydney Roosters, simply because they’re going to be undercooked, I think,” he said.

“St Helens have got a number of games under their belt in friendlies and now three have gone by in the season, so I think it’s going to be a tough game in terms of it being physically demanding for the Roosters.

“As much training as you can do, for the Roosters, I think it’s always difficult to come to a game when you haven’t played any games, just from a point of timing, speed of the game and catching your breath.

“And they may just be undercooked in terms of running the right angles and lines, and working under pressure in the collision, as well.

“I think it’s going to be a difficult game for both sides and there’s a lot at stake, but I think St Helens might just win it after a pretty close and ferocious match and a wonderful spectacle.”

Saints have started where they left off in Super League action this season as they sit top of the table with two wins from three, building on their 2019 success where they breezed past Salford Red Devils 23-6 in the Grand Final at Old Trafford.

But they have a new head coach this season in former Tonga boss Kristian Woolf, who took over from Justin Holbrook after his successful stint at the Totally Wicked Stadium.

And while Hanley was unable to speculate on Woolf’s impact on Merseyside, he says he is simply looking forward to the spectacle as two of the sport’s heavyweights prepare to go toe-to-toe.

“Unless you’re in the organisation, it’s very difficult to know how some coaches coach – I think all the coaches throughout Super League coach differently, and they look at individuals and the collective as a group very differently to each other,” he added.

“But I like both the southern and the northern hemisphere games – I think both are great adverts for the sport and we’ve got a wonderful product and a great sport.

“I think big games are always decided on who does the little things well and who does it for the longest period.

“When I played it was probably the most brutal game I’ve ever played in, and it will be etched in my mind forever just because it was that brutal and that tough – it was physical, and there were some wonderful players in both camps.”

The Betfred World Club Challenge is a huge night in Rugby League which sees the Super League Champions, St Helens take on the NRL Champions, Sydney Roosters. This year’s contest takes place at the Totally Wicked Stadium, St Helens on Saturday 22 February (7:45pm KO).  Secure your seat by visiting https://tickets.saintsrlfc.com/home.aspx