St Helens are Champions of the World after they defeated NRL Champions Penrith Panthers yesterday.
St Helens wasted the first opportunity of the game. After a Penrith error invited pressure, the Saints had three repeat sets but two poor grubber kicks squandered the first attack.
Then immediately, Taylan May made a break down the left for Penrith and eventually a Stephen Crichton kick caused chaos for the Saints until Will Hopoate dealt with it.
As the rain picked up, a quick play the ball from Alex Walmsley had Penrith stretched and a lovely ball from Jonny Lomax allowed Curtis Sironen to tear through and he found Jack Welsby in support to score.
After scoring the opener, Welsby, helped by the returning Morgan Knowles, produced a stunning try saver on Nathan Cleary to stop him short turn him on his back and force the ball loose.
As the rain intensified and the lighting started to flash around the pitch, Konrad Hurrell hit the ball short down the blind side like a crack of thunder to tear through the Penrith defence short range to score.
In the first half St Helens kept the Panthers scoreless despite 34 tackles inside their 20. It did cost them Tommy Makinson who went off after a head injury.
Nonetheless, the Saints held out.
At the start of the second half, the Saints added to their advantage as another error, this time from Stephen Crichton, invited more pressure. A penalty came and Lewis Dodd, in Makinson’s absence, made it 12-0.
Penrith needed something to spark them back into life and it came as Nathan Cleary kicked over the top and Welsby was unable to deal with it allowing May to ground it.
That left the game on a knife edge. The Saints wasted a few changes as did Penrith. The Super League Champions were brilliant with the simple things rolling down field and turning the Panthers around.
Crucially, they missed two efforts at the one-pointer down the Penrith end and eventually a Crichton bomb was dropped and Brian To’o crossed out wide setting up a massive kick for Nathan Cleary.
The best player in the world perhaps, he nailed the touchline conversion with ease.
The game subsequently headed into golden point extra time. Penrith looked to have the beating of Saints when a high kick was fumbled by Percival and he seemed destined to be trapped in goal but an extra effort forced him clear.
Then a Crichton knock on gift wrapped the chance for Saints to win the game and it was the perfect revenge for the World Cup as Lewis Dodd nailed the drop goal to win the game.
Despite this sensational performance and win, St Helens miss out on a $100,000 cash prize.
The World Club Challenge formed part of the NRL’s new competition, the Pre-Season Challenge which is played over two weeks and rewards teams for their creativity with bonus points for the likes of tries, line breaks and offloads.
So, despite their win the Saints only finish second behind Manly Sea Eagles.
Manly have taken 29 of the 30 points available whilst St Helens claimed 20. Part of this is because their win over Penrith is only counted as a draw so only yielded six points rather than 12 points like a win in the 80 minutes.
However, even with those extra six points, a lack of bonus points sees them miss out.
But a second place finish is truly impressive.