Paul Wellens insists St Helens will cope with the heat against Penrith Panthers

Paul Wellens insists St Helens will cope with the heat against Penrith Panthers

Paul Wellens has mocked suggestions his St Helens side will not be able to stand the heat when they face NRL champions Penrith Panthers in the World Club Challenge in Sydney on Saturday.

Expectations of temperatures tipping 39 degrees celsius have prompted officials to shift the kick-off back one hour and introduce other rule changes including an additional player on the bench and extended water breaks midway through each half.

But Saints head coach Wellens insists the reigning Super League champions are fully prepared for the conditions and said of some coverage in the Australian media: “They seem to think we’re Eskimos who live in igloos.”

St Helens v Huddersfield Giants – Betfred Super League – Totally Wicked Stadium
Joe Batchelor has suffered an injury blow for St Helens (Mike Egerton/PA)

Saints have made an impressive start Down Under after sweeping aside St George Illawarra in a build-up game last weekend, but their preparations have been hit by an ankle injury to forward Joe Batchelor, who is expected to require surgery upon his return to the UK.

Wellens said: “It’s quite funny when you listen to quite a lot of the talk around it. We know they are going to be hot and humid conditions but it’s the same for them as us, and we’ve played in those conditions in places like Perpignan and Toulouse.”

Nevertheless, Wellens went on to praise the precautions being taken in respect of player welfare, adding: “Sometimes we think that the tougher the better, but I think sometimes you need protecting from yourself and that’s why these rules are in place.

“The decision to move the kick-off is a sensible one. We want finals to be tough and the players to have to earn their victory, but there are also limitations to the way we want to go about doing that, so I think the sensible approach has been taken.”

Wellens admitted the news about Batchelor, who underwent a scan after limping out of the win over St George, had put a dampener on the build-up to what is Saints’ first World Club Challenge in Australia since they lost the inaugural competition to Eastern Suburbs in 1976.

“Joe came off with an ankle injury, we sent him for a scan and it’s looking very likely that Joe will require surgery on his return to the UK,” added Wellens.

“It’s a huge blow for Joe personally. People have seen the influence he has had on the team, and the progress he has made as a player has been significant.”

Further scans are set to determine the length of Batchelor’s absence, but he will definitely miss the start of their Super League season, which Saints kick off on February 26 at Castleford.