St Helens will head down under to face Penrith as part of the World Club Challenge in February but they’re also set to feature in the NRL pre-season challenge.
As champions of the European Super League, Saints will head to Australia to face the NRL champions, Penrith Panthers.
Both sides have won consecutive Grand Finals, although for Saints the run now stands at four consecutive compared to Penrith’s two.
The World Club Challenge is back again after it was cancelled for the past few years due to the pandemic and Saints will aim to become one of the few English sides that have defeated their Australian opposition.
However that’s not the only game they’ll contest and it’s not the only prize either with the NRL having integrated St Helens into their ‘Pre-season Challenge’.
It will effectively run as a tournament with all 17 NRL clubs, plus Saints, to make an 18-team competition whereby teams earn points for wins and specific elements of gameplay.
Every side will play two games, Saints also face St George Illawarra in their trip down under, and the team with the most points after two games are crowned as champions and earn themselves $100,000.
Scoring can be earned via wins which are worth 12 points, draws worth six whilst losses count for nothing.
In addition there’s also bonus points for scoring five or more tries, making five or more line breaks and finally making ten or more offloads in a game.
That said it begs the question of will Saints change their style of play?
A bonus of $100,000 would be huge for a Super League side and it certainly won’t be sniffed at by any NRL sides either.
Obviously the easiest way to earn points in this format, with points meaning prizes and that prize being $100,000, is to win games with 12 points awarded for victory.
But clean breaks and offloads are also points that are begging to be earned so could Saints, who already do play quite an expansive style of rugby, profit from that by playing an even more expansive style.
During the 2022 campaign two St Helens players found themselves among the top 10 players for offloads with Agnatius Paasi ranking third and tallying an incredible 42, whilst full-back Jack Welsby ranked ninth with 29 of his own.
As for clean breaks winger Tommy Makinson led the league with 30 whilst both Konrad Hurrell and Jack Welsby also found themselves in the top 20 again.
In the NRL only two players had more clean breaks than Makinson, Cronulla Sharks’ Ronaldo Mulitalo recorded 32 whilst Rabbitohs Alex Johnston boasted an incredible 42.
In terms of offloads very few performed better than Paasi with just four players surpassing his total, however it’s worth noting that the leader on that stat was Tevita Pangai Jr who recorded an incredible 51 offloads in just 19 games.
The final metric to earn points is by scoring five or more points and Saints managed that on nine occasions in the league in 2022 equating to a third of their performances.
With stout defences being typical of the NRL style of play this could be the hardest bonus to achieve but with the expansive brand of rugby and nothing to lose mentality of St Helens, particularly in the game against St George Illawarra then it could happen.