Paul Wellens hails ‘seismic moment’ as St Helens win World Club Challenge title
St Helens head coach Paul Wellens hailed a “seismic moment for British rugby league” after Lewis Dodd’s golden point drop-goal earned his side a dramatic 13-12 victory in their World Club Challenge clash with Penrith Panthers in Sydney.
Saints defied a tropical storm and the first-half loss of Tommy Makinson with a head injury to claim a stunning upset win and become the first English team to win the title Down Under since Wigan sunk the Brisbane Broncos in 1994.
Early tries from Jack Welsby and Konrad Hurrell had put Saints in command but Penrith threatened to spoil the party when Brian To’o’s try helped haul the Australian champions back level with less than two minutes left on the clock.
Wellens, who played full-back in Saints’ previous world title win over Brisbane in Bolton in 2007, said: “I remember watching Wigan come over here and beat that great Brisbane team of 94 and given that a victory like that has not happened since, it is obviously a seismic moment for British rugby league.
“We came over here with a determination around getting a result and had the belief that we could win.
“At the same time we knew we had to play well and go through periods where it was extremely tough.
“I have just said to the players it is a monumental victory.”
Saints had made a stunning start in atrocious conditions at the BlueBet Stadium, where double defending NRL champions Penrith had won 25 of their previous 27 games.
Welsby finished off a rousing 75-yard surge for the opener and Makinson added the conversion before Hurrell barged over to put Saints 10 points clear.
A Mark Percival penalty early in the second period – which was briefly delayed due to lightning – extended Saints’ lead but they braced for the inevitable Panthers assault and it started when Izack Tago crossed and Nathan Cleary’s conversion put them within sight.
As the minutes ticked by and the pressure began to show, both Welsby and Dodd missed drop-goal attempts that would have nudged them towards safety, and when To’o went over he threatened to shatter Saints’ dreams.
Instead Saints regrouped and when a spill by Jarome Luai handed them their chance on the edge of the Panthers’ 20, it was 21-year-old Dodd, who missed much of last season including the Grand Final with a hamstring injury, who seized his second chance to make history.
It's a moment you dream of as a kid, it doesn't get any better and I'm just proud to live it with these lads. I knew from the moment I got a clean shot that it was going over
“It’s a moment you dream of as a kid, it doesn’t get any better and I’m just proud to live it with these lads,” said Dodd. “I knew from the moment I got a clean shot that it was going over.
“You can’t experience the highs in this game unless you go through the lows. Missing that Grand Final was definitely one of the lows for me. We knew Penrith were going to come back at us but we stuck at it and believed in ourselves.”
As St Helens’ substitutes and backroom staff surged onto the field to celebrate Dodd’s kick, it marked a special moment for captain James Roby, the only playing survivor of Saints’ 2007 triumph, who delayed retirement in the hope of another crack at the southern hemisphere giants.
“This has probably got to be the pinnacle of my career, to come over here and play against this Penrith team when everybody wrote us off, nobody fancied us to win the game,” said Roby.
“But we always had that inner belief, we know what we are about and how we can perform. We went out and did that.”