St Helens have done it. Lewis Dodd made himself the hero of the hour as his kick in extra time secured a golden point victory over Penrith Panthers at the BlueBet Stadium on Saturday as they won 13-12 in the World Club Challenge.
The English club came into this fixture as huge underdogs but their performance was fitting of world champions status and this victory will ripple through time as one of the biggest of the Super League era.
The Saints turned in an overall sublime performance, despite a shaky ending to the second half, to earn themselves the title of the best team in the world. This is a huge stride in their progress in recent years having won the past four Betfred Super League titles. Their triumph was their first on the world stage since 2007 and they have become only the second UK side, after Wigan Warriors, to claim the honour in Australia.
While it was an outstanding team effort from St Helens in Penrith, their biggest performer was full back Jack Welsby. Not only did he score the opening try of the game to get his side up and running, he was also brilliant in organising the Saints’ defensive line and was really strong in the challenge.
It was a commanding performance from the Saints who showed their quality at being clinical as they pounced on Penrith to get two first-half tries on the board through Welsby and Konrad Hurrell. Tommy Makinson converted the opening try from Welsby but his second attempt was booted just wide.
The Panthers nearly clawed their way back into the match at 6-0 when Nathan Cleary thought he had successfully navigated the ball over the try line, but it was shown he was unsuccessful thanks to an extraordinary intervention from Morgan Knowles - highlighting the resilience and determination of Paul Wellens’ men down under.
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The second half was briefly halted due to a thunderstorm with the rain pouring down inside Penrith Stadium, but it also typified the way the visitors were playing because they were like lightning in the opening 40 minutes.
This durability was also demonstrated when Saints centre Mark Percival made a strong challenge to shut out Stephen Crichton with the score at 10-0. Percival then extended St Helens’ lead after the break after converting a penalty from the left after Cleary was penalised for a challenge on veteran James Roby.
Penrith started to grow into the game in the second half. Cleary was the most involved of the Panthers in the match and it was a spark of creativity from him that saw the solid Saints line broken. The Australian international kicked the ball down from around 35 yards out into the left channel and Sunia Turuva chased it down. Welsby got across to stop him scoring but he couldn’t deny Izack Tago for the follow-up. Cleary then converted to halve the deficit.
The momentum of the game started to shift in the hosts’ favour and the Saints had to defend more vigorously as they had been doing before because Penrith had started to find their rhythm. It set up an exciting but nervy end to the match with both teams pushing for the fourth try. Both sides had decent openings but they either made mistakes or were snuffed out by some strong defending.
Just when you thought that the Saints had done enough to see out the victory, they were undone by a late swarm from the Panthers which saw Brian To’o score a game-changing try, to which Panthers star Cleary converted to take the game to extra time.
The Saints had to face a huge psychological battle in extra time in search of the golden point and they dug deep to get themselves over the line thanks to Dodds’ dramatic winning kick. It was a fitting moment for captain Roby at the end of the match as he was presented with the trophy he got his hands on with Saints back in 2007. An excellent way to kick-off his farewell campaign in rugby league.