St Helens forward Joe Batchelor has been ruled out of the World Club Challenge with an ankle injury, which will require surgery.
The England international suffered the injury in last Saturday’s 30-18 win over St George Illawarra Dragons in the NRL pre-season challenge.
Batchelor was spotted wearing a protective boot in the changing rooms at half-time. Speaking after that match, head coach Paul Wellens said it was mainly as a precaution but scans have now revealed the worst case scenario. Batchelor will require surgery when St Helens return to the UK next week.
St Helens coach Paul Wellens said: “People who watched the St George game saw that Joe came off with an ankle injury.
“We sent him for scans over here. The reports came back looking very likely that Joe will require surgery on his return to the UK.
“It’s a huge blow for Joe personally. I think people have seen the influence he has had on the team and the performances that he’s produced over the last 12 to 18 months. The progress he’s made as a player has been quite significant.
“It is really disappointing for Joe and really disappointing for us as a team to lose a player of the calibre of Joe for this game and the next few weeks after when we get an indication of how series the injury is.
“At the same time, what this group has tended to do really well is overcome the loss of key individuals. I’ll reference last year losing the likes of Alex Walmsley and Lewis Dodd. The group tends to find a way to cope with those types of things. We are going to have to do that again this week.”
Paul Wellens on filling the void left by Joe Batchelor
It’s likely that Saints will start experienced pair Sione Mata’utia and Curtis Sironen in the back-row against the Panthers.
Wellens added: “We consider Joe, Sione and Curtis Sironen as three of the best back-rowers in Super League. We’re very fortunate to have three such high quality back-rowers.
“Joe is someone who offers us versatility as well because he can go out in the centres as well. It does make us re-consider our options a bit.
“I sat down at length with Laurent (Frayssinous) and Ian Talbot and discussed different options of how we can fill that void. It’s certainly helps our situation by having the likes of Curtis Sironen and Sione Mata’utia in the squad who are both high quality back-rowers in their own right.”
The World Club Challenge takes place at Penrith’s BlueBet Stadium on Saturday (7:50am UK).