Reports Down Under suggest that the World Club Challenge could return in 2023 and be held in Australia.
There hasn’t been a game between the Super League and NRL champions since Sydney Roosters beat St Helens back in 2020.
Saints have gone on to win four Super League titles in a row, and will be keen to test themselves against back-to-back NRL winners Penrith Panthers.
Panthers CEO, Brian Fletcher, told the Sydney Morning Herald: “It would have been impossible for us to go over there, but talk of them coming over here is excellent.
“We’ve only got word today that our second trial, instead of being against another NRL side, the NRL are investigating how they can bring St Helens to Sydney.
“The plan will be to play the game a week before the start of the NRL competition.
“We’d love for it to happen. It will be great for the area, it’s something different.
“It will also give some of our younger boys the chance to have a run against a quality side.”
Will the World Club Challenge happen?
While St Helens have in previous years expressed their eagerness to stage the World Club Challenge, the response has been lukewarm at best from Australia.
It is thought that Penrith would not be open to travelling to the UK, given a large portion of their squad are already here for the World Cup.
The story broke during the World Cup match between Tonga and Wales at St Helens’ Totally Wicked Stadium, though no club officials were available for interview.
But St Helens chief executive Mike Rush has previously said they would be more than happy to play in the World Club Challenge, and that the ball was in the court of the Australians.
He said earlier this month: “We can accommodate the game for sure and Super League has been in contact with the NRL.
“It would, of course, have to fit in with the start of both seasons and an issue could be the costs of staging the game given the price of flights at present.”
Question marks over who and when
Costs either way would appear to be a stumbling block, especially in light of the comments by Fletcher about young players.
Saints would surely be less likely to want to stump up costs to go to Australia if Penrith weren’t going to take the match seriously.
The reports of the game being held in Sydney suggest that it would take place in the second week of the NRL’s pre-season schedule, so prior to the NRL regular season starting.
How that would impact on St Helens’ Super League schedule is unknown. Previously, teams have had to postpone at least one game and then either play it prior to the Super League start date, or in midweek later in the campaign.
Talk over a possible clash between the same two teams in 2022 brought about a fall out in the press. St Helens say they had made several attempts to contact the Panthers and the NRL, and were ignored.
But Penrith responded saying they had received no correspondence from St Helens and that “there was never any genuine intent to organise the fixture”.
That was in the context of a post-pandemic world, and just months after Australia and New Zealand had withdrawn from the World Cup, causing its postponement to this year.
Those logistical challenges would now be easier, though the spiralling costs in the current climate are likely to be a pivotal factor either way.
St Helens were World Champions in 2001 and 2007, beating Brisbane Broncos on both occasions, while Penrith have twice been on the losing side in 1991 and 2004 to Wigan and Bradford respectively.
Only two of the last 21 World Club Challenge matches have been held in Australia. Wigan lost to Sydney Roosters in 2014 and Melbourne beat Leeds at home in 2018.