Exclusive: Wellens, Welsby reveal St Helens ‘pride’ and ‘togetherness’ as historical win is turned into a film

Ross Heppenstall
St Helens lift World Club Challenge against Penrith Panthers - Alamy

St Helens lift the 2023 World Club Challenge after beating Penrith Panthers in Australia

It was hailed as the greatest triumph in St Helens’ history – and arguably the finest moment for any British rugby league side on Australian soil.

Now Saints’ iconic World Club Challenge triumph over NRL kings Penrith Panthers last February has been chronicled in a 90-minute feature film produced by the club.

Saints Down Under: History Makers follows Paul Wellens’ squad during their time Down Under, culminating in Lewis Dodd’s drop-goal which secured a famous 13-12 golden point win.

After Penrith came from 12-0 down to level matters, the homegrown half-back kicked a dramatic one-pointer in extra-time to decide a thrilling encounter.

Thus Saints – already Super League immortals after a record-breaking four successive Grand Final wins – could call themselves the best club side on the planet.

It was a perfect way for legendary ex-player Wellens to begin his reign as St Helens became the first Super League side to win a World Club Challenge in Australia since 1994.

It was Saints’ third World Club Challenge title overall as Wellens and his players celebrated joyously with the 1,000 or so travelling fans.

The documentary’s premiere was given its first-ever showing at Cineworld St Helens on Tuesday night with Wellens, his players and staff in attendance.

Jack Welsby, who scored Saints’ first try against Penrith and created the second for Konrad Hurrell, was delighted to relive the greatest moments of his fledgling career.

The England star told Love Rugby League: “It was good to watch it back.

“You can get lost in the moment at times and not really remember things when you’re sat in the changing room having a laugh with the lads.

“But to win a World Club Challenge in Australia created memories that you’ll take to the grave with you and I’m glad it’s all documented in this film.”

‘I think that togetherness that we have in the group comes from winning things’

What is clear from the footage, captured by club videographer Josh Howard, is the strength of the bonds which exist between Wellens’ players.

Big characters such as Hurrell, long-serving forward Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook and legendary captain James Roby feature prominently, while the support down under of ex-players such as James Graham is also clear to see.

“I think that togetherness that we have in the group comes from winning things,” added Welsby.

“We’ve won that much together as a team and people like Louie and Robes were obviously massive members of the team for so long.

“Robes is still around the club, but Hoppa and Louie have gone so it takes some rebuilding.

“That’s something we’ve got to do with the young lads and the new signings.”

‘Everything that we pride ourselves on at St Helens is captured in that documentary’

St Helens with the World Club Challenge trophy
St Helens with the World Club Challenge trophy – Alamy

The documentary follows Wellens’ squad from their initial training base in Manly before they come off second-best in an opposed training session against the North Sydney Bears.

Saints then beat St George Illawarra Dragons convincingly in a warm-up game in Wollongong before turning over Penrith in the biggest club game in rugby league.

Wellens’ motivational skills, the care his players are given by trusted backroom staff, and the amount of preparation St Helens undertook for the World Club Challenge are evident.

Wellens talks in team meetings about the prestigious 150-year history of his hometown club and the significance of becoming the first St Helens team to win a game in Australia.

“It was really good to watch it back because, when you’re in the moment, you’re not really aware of cameras being there,” Wellens told Love Rugby League.

“Josh is stealth-like in his work, he gets about with a small camera and picked up so many great interactions which I wasn’t aware of.

“So I think what you get is a real authenticity of our environment – the players interacting with staff, the staff interacting with players and the fun element that we have but also all the hard work.

“Everything that we pride ourselves on at St Helens is captured in that documentary.”

New documentary providing motivation ahead of new campaign

Wellens, who had played in the club’s World Club Challenge victories over Brisbane Broncos in 2001 and 2007, said his squad grew closer after spending around three weeks together in Australia.

“There was a bit of a siege mentality in that not many people gave us a chance over there,” reflected Wellens.

“I think that pulled the group closer together and we went over there with total belief.

“It’s nearly 12 months ago now and, in one aspect, I want to put it bed and concentrate on what we can achieve moving forward.

“But on the flip side, to watch those experiences back is actually quite motivating in terms of going again this year.”

The documentary will be released publicly on Saints TV next Thursday (January 18) at 8pm.

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