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NRL: Panthers ready for Saints test

Penrith Panthers will aim to win their first World Club Challenge when they take on top English Super League outfit St Helens on Saturday night.

It is the first time that the champions of Australia and England have met since 2020 and the Panthers are the hot fancies to add some more silverware to the trophy cabinet.

The Panthers are also boosted by the news that the game is played in front of their own fans rather than them having to make the trip over to the UK. The last time it was played in Australia the Melbourne Storm beat the Leeds Rhinos back in 2018 and Penrith will be out to do the same to St Helens.

Winning trophies is something that Penrith have got used to after going back-to-back in the 2021 and 2022 NRL Grand Finals and they will be keen to get off to a great start in 2023. It could set the tone for the rest of the season when the Panthers will be keen to show they can cope without a number of key players that have moved on. 

The Panthers returned early to pre-season training to prepare for this, which shows they are taking it very seriously indeed. It is also a huge opportunity for Saints to try and prove that the gulf between the NRL and Super League is not as big as some make out.

Although English sides have won the World Club Challenge down the years it has mostly been on home soil. Indeed only Wigan have won down under when beating Brisbane Broncos back in 1994. So that is even more incentive for Saints.

It has all the making of an interesting affair and at last high quality rugby league is back on the agenda ahead of the 2023 NRL season getting under way. Let’s take a closer look at Penrith Panthers v St Helens.

What:Penrith Panthers v St Helens
Where:BlueBet Stadium, Penrith
When:18:30 (AEST) Saturday 18th February
How to watch:Foxtel, Kayo Sports
Odds:Penrith 2/25, St Helens 7/1

Edwards missing for Panthers

A new era begins for the Panthers in 2023 following the departures of a number of players including Api Korisau and Viliame Kikau. However it is nothing new. Players moved on 12 months ago and the Panthers still went on to win the 2022 NRL Grand Final.

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What the top eight could look like

Who can stop the Panthers in 2023?

They have a conveyor belt of talent coming through. The Panthers will be missing some key players against Saints as Dylan Edwards, who was man-of-the-match in the Grand Final win, is missing through injury. The fullback should be ready for round one, but this game comes too soon.

But the Panthers should not miss him too much as State of Origin ace Stephen Crichton will step in to take the number one jersey. Elsewhere back-rower Liam Martin is also missing because of a knee injury. Apart from that Ivan Cleary has a wealth of talent available to him and he will name a very strong side.

Nathan Cleary and Isaah Yeo, fresh from winning the World Cup with the Kanagroos, will be joined by Jarome Luai, Brian To’o, Spencer Leniu and Izack Tago in the Panthers side.

Knowles back for Saints

St Helens warmed up nicely for the Panthers clash when defeating St George Illawarra Dragons 30-18 in Wollongong last week and can take plenty of heart from the win. They were missing Morgan Knowles through illness but thankfully for the Saints the England international has recovered and will be able to take his place in the side.

There are big concerns over Tommy Makinson though after the winger suffered an injury against the Dragons and is touch and go to face the Panthers. Makinson was St Helens leading try-scorer in 2022 with 22 tries and he will be a massive loss for them if he does not recover in time.

St Helens do have players that can hurt the Panthers. Fullback Jack Welsby stood out against the Dragons as did prop Alex Walmsley and the Panthers will need to keep an eye on those two in particular.

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