World Cup heartache driving ambition for World Club Challenge glory

Drew Darbyshire
Tommy Makinson St Helens World Club Challenge SWpix

St Helens’ England stars want to show the world just how good they really are when they take on NRL heavyweights Penrith in the World Club Challenge.

The Saints have been the dominant club in Super League for several years now. Paul Wellens’ side will target their fifth consecutive Grand Final title in 2023.

St Helens want to go one step further later this month and be crowned the best club in the world. They take on back-to-back NRL premiers Penrith Panthers in the World Club Challenge.

There’s a bit of added motivation in the game too. There’s a number of Samoa players in Penrith’s squad and several England players at St Helens.

Cast your mind back to last autumn, when Samoa beat England in golden point extra-time to reach their first-ever Rugby League World Cup final.

Do the English players want revenge? Not really. But they want to show the world what they are capable of come February 18.

Saints star Tommy Makinson, who played in that World Cup semi-final, told Love Rugby League: “It’s more pride than anything.

“You want to go and show you are the best, just like they will. You know how proud the Samoan and Aussie lads are and how proud they’ll be of Penrith but we’re the same over here.

“I’m proud to play for St Helens and proud of being an Englishman and I’m proud of our four titles over here.

“I want to go over there and show that we are the best team and that we can win the World Club Challenge on Aussie soil against the best, who have done it back-to-back over there. It doesn’t come much bigger, so it’s definitely added motivation.”

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Making the most out of the World Club Challenge

St Helens will spend almost three weeks Down Under as a squad. They will face NRL side St George Illawarra Dragons in what will be a battle of the Saints on February 11 before the World Club Challenge a week later.

“I think we’ve got 20 days over there,” Makinson added.

“We’ve got St George Illawarra first and then into the World Club so we are looking forward to it. It’s an opportunity that doesn’t come around very often. It should do but you don’t really have chance to go over there unless you play internationally because the World Club is usually over here so it’s going to be exciting for all the lads and hopefully one we can remember forever.

“It’s a weird one the World Club Challenge because we’ve got that and then its straight into the season so we’ve got to be focused on that and we’ve got to be ready to go into Super League as well because we know how hard that is going to be. Hopefully we can get off to a good one there (Australia) and continue our business over here (England).”

Can St Helens make it five in a row?

The Saints have been the benchmark in Super League for a long time now. They’ve won Super League titles under previous head coaches Justin Holbrook and Kristian Woolf. Now, it’s time for club legend Wellens to take over the reins.

“Everyone’s goal is the same in the squad and so is Paul’s as well,” Makinson told Love Rugby League.

“I think he knows there are a few improvements to make. He knows that if we stand still that other clubs will come past us and overtake us. We’ll make a few improvements and we’ve made a few signings as well so it’s boding well for a good season ahead.

“Why can’t we (win five)? We know we need to improve. We can’t stand still because there are so many teams who are improving. Last year we saw how good Wigan were and Leeds got to the Grand Final and Salford were brilliant as well, so we know those teams are improving. We know what it takes to win and we’ll be giving it everything this year.

“I just feel like you have to improve because everyone else is. We are the team to be shot at and the team that everyone wants to beat.”

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