Joe Batchelor has suffered a crushing blow to his chances of facing Penrith Panthers in the World Club Challenge at the BlueBet Stadium on Saturday.
The Saints’ second row forward was spotted wearing a protective boot following the victory over St George Illawarra Dragons at the weekend and wasn’t named in the club’s initial squad for the daunting challenge which lies ahead.
Tommy Makinson suffered a cork injury in the Dragons’ encounter but like Morgan Knowles he is expected to make the starting line-up.
Rarely have two teams entered the WCC clash on the back of such dominant streaks in their respective competitions – St Helens winning the past four Super League titles, the Panthers going back-to-back in the NRL in 2021-22 after finishing runners-up in 2020.
Penrith’s posse of World Cup stars were wrapped in cotton wool during round one of the Pre-Season Challenge but will be ready to rumble against the Saints, who put down a marker by the manner they brushed aside the Dragons - winning the Wollongong showdown 30-18.
With full back Jack Welsby (19 runs for 200 metres and four tackle breaks) and prop Alex Walmsley (17 runs for 197 metres) leading the charge against St George and Agnatius Paasi and James Bell bringing impact off the bench, the Super League champions made it clear they mean business on this trip Down Under.
But in front of a parochial Penrith crowd the visitors are in for a true test of their mettle and will have to show once more a strong culture and unbreakable belief if they want to return home with the coveted trophy.
Penrith back rower Liam Martin (knee) is out of contention but his fellow Kangaroos Nathan Cleary and Isaah Yeo will be fit and raring to go after they were rested from the Eels game on Saturday.
The Aussie trio, along with Samoan World Cup stars Jarome Luai, Stephen Crichton, Brian To’o, Spencer Leniu and Izack Tago, all resumed training early on January 9 to ensure they would have at least six weeks of pre-season under their belt before taking part in a professional match as per health and safety protocols.
Bench player Jaeman Salmon was the only member of the Panthers’ Grand Final side who had a run against the Eels and he has again been named in the 17-man squad.
St Helens squad: 1. Jack Welsby 2. Tommy Makinson 3. Will Hopoate 4. Mark Percival 5. Jonathan Bennison 6. Jonny Lomax 7. Lewis Dodd 8. Alex Walmsley 9. James Roby 10. Matty Lees 11. Sione Mata’utia 13. Morgan Knowles 14. Joey Lussick 15. Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook 16. Curtis Sironen 17. Agnatius Paasi 18. Jake Wingfield 19. James Bell 20. Daniel Norman 21. Ben Davies 22. Sam Royle 23. Konrad Hurrell 24. Lewis Baxter 25 Tee Ritson.
Penrith squad: 1. Stephen Crichton 2. Taylan May 3. Izack Tago 4. Sunia Turuva 5. Brian To’o 6. Jarome Luai 7. Nathan Cleary 8. Moses Leota 9. Mitch Kenny 10. James Fisher-Harris 11. Luke Garner 12. Zac Hosking 13. Isaah Yeo 14. Jack Cogger 15. Matt Eisenhuth 16. Spencer Leniu 17. Jaeman Salmon 18. Lindsay Smith 19. Kurt Falls 20. Liam Henry 21. Thomas Jenkins 22. Mavrik Geyer
- The clash will now kick off 50 minutes later than originally scheduled at 7.50am (UK time).The decision was made due to player safety concerns around the forecasted head and humidity in regional NSW and Western Sydney