Written by Zack Wilson
St Helens lost to Sydney Roosters in the World Club Challenge at the Totally Wicked Stadium on Saturday evening, with the final scoreline of 20-12 in the Australian side’s favour probably being about right.
While the Roosters had to work hard all night, and never really looked totally dominant, they were definitely the better side.
The efficiency and smooth execution of the NRL once again overcame the creativity and spontaneity of the Super League.
Saints were missing key personnel of course. Regan Grace’s Welsh wizardry on the wing may have brought some joy.
Scotland international Lachlan Coote’s composure and game sense at full-back were definitely missed.
Coote last season was the hinge around which much of Saints’ attack swung, and his absence seemed to leave a huge hole.
Mark Percival at the centre was another key absence, with James Bentley, although game, not providing the same specialist sharpness.
Saints certainly looked like they were up for the physical battle, a sign that strength and conditioning work in Super League has caught up with the NRL.
Couldn't make Saturday's World Club Challenge? 🌎
WATCH the FULL game replay now on Saints TV! 👇https://t.co/rCJX8MExmg
— St.Helens R.F.C. (@Saints1890) February 24, 2020
The gap, though, is still there when it comes to execution and decision making, as Saints prop Alex Walmsley recognised.
“I thought we matched them toe to toe and our interchange off the bench gave us a boost,” he told Rugby League Long Reads.
“We weren’t far off. It just boiled down to those missed opportunities.”
Those missed opportunities are really what separate the NRL from Super League – the ability to convert territory and pressure into points with ruthless efficiency
St Helens coach Kristian Woolf recognised the issue too, stating: “The unfortunate thing was that we created plenty of opportunities and did a good job for the most part defensively, but when we had those opportunities we just didn’t quite ice a couple of them tonight.”
There is a massive disparity in money and resource between Super League and the NRL, which is something that needs to be borne in mind when comparing the two leagues.
This game was reminiscent in some ways of a team like Celtic or Rosenberg playing in the Champions League in soccer.
While Saints are a champion side, with some great players, there was always a sense that they would need to produce a special performance, something beyond their usual level, to overcome the NRL champions.
The extra level of quality that players like Joseph Manu and Siosiua Taukeiahowere able to produce at key moments was crucial to the game’s outcome.
But the lesson about the World Club Challenge that does not seem to have quite been learned yet is that it needs to be valued and treated with respect.
— Sydney Roosters 🐓 (@sydneyroosters) February 24, 2020
It needs to be inked into the calendar so that everyone involved in the game knows when it is happening.
It has plenty of potential as an expansion tool too, and taking it to a premium stadium outside of rugby league’s heartlands has to be an aim for the future.
But until the financial disparity between the competitions is eased, NRL sides will continue to dominate.