St Helens’ victory over Penrith Panthers in the World Club Challenge could act as a stimulus to improve Rugby League in the northern hemisphere, according to two leading lights in the 13-a-side code, and at the same time ensure young talent doesn’t drift to the NRL.
Frank Slevin, commercial chairperson of a company created to drive the game’s development as part of a realignment of their governance, said: "The timing of the win could not have been better, coming as it does at the start of the Betfred Super League season. It’s a real shot in the arm for the competition.”
St Helens new coach Paul Wellens, who has at least two highly rated and talented playmakers under his wing in Jack Welsby and Lewis Dodd, said before the squad jetted home from their 13-12 victory over the Aussie champions that he was aware NRL clubs were looking at his squad.
“I consider it a privilege that clubs on this side of the world would like to take our players, because that means we’re doing something right. But at the same time we have to create an environment where players want to stay and be a part of it.
“I don’t know the individual ambitions of every single player within our squad, but I do know to a man they are all extremely happy pulling on a Saints’ jersey and coming over here and performing like they did.”
NRL clubs are currently engaged in negotiations that are expected to lift the competition’s salary cap to around £7million, more than triple the current Super League equivalent, amid calls from some clubs for it to rise to enable them to remain competitive.
But Wellens believes his side’s remarkable win can only help redress the balance. The former club full back added: “What we wanted was to change opinions and we’ve done that.
“We haven’t won Super League with ease over the last four years. I hope people realise that the Super League is a strong competition. Although it’s not at the level of the NRL on a consistent basis, it’s not doing a lot wrong.
“We’re a strong competition in our own right, and we’re trying to get better and improve. I hope this performance can be a catalyst for change, and a catalyst for improvement in rugby league on our side of the world.”