It will be something of a baptism of fire for new St Helens coach Paul Wellens when the team land in Australia today ahead of the World Club Challenge against NRL champions Penrith Panthers.

However, before that the Betfred Super League heroes get to stretch their legs and get used to the hot climate with a run-out against St George Illawarra.

Wello has been boosted by the inclusion of his first-choice half-back Lewis Dodd, who made a try-scoring return to action last Friday on what was not only Mark Percival’s Testimonial match but Doddie’s 21st birthday – what a present!

He suffered a nasty injury early last year, putting an end to his season. They don’t come much worse than a ruptured achilles… trust me I know!

I had the misfortune of suffering the same injury in training ahead of our Challenge Cup quarter-final against Warrington in 2007. It can be a freak injury with no explanations needed – and boy it goes with a bang.

As you can imagine, it’s a very long, drawn out recovery waiting for the tear to heal before rehab starts to get the full range of movement and stretch back, not to mention the confidence to run.

So, to see Lewis back and looking as sharp as he did prior to the injury is a big boost for all. I had the pleasure of working with him as a youngster at England Youth, and it was clear to me back then he has all the assets to go all the way. A naturally-gifted player, but his biggest asset is his attitude and work ethic which will no doubt be a key figure in Saints’ charge for five in a row.

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It will be interesting to see Wello’s selections for both games Down Under, with the focus on being at full strength come the World Club Challenge final at the home of the Panthers on February 18.

It was a close 16-12 win on Friday against Widnes, as Percy kicks off his testimonial year. He didn’t play, as he continues his rehab ahead of the Betfred Super League season, but the rest of the boys who played pretty much all came through unscathed with a solid 80 minutes under their belt. That is all that matters in pre-season.

Super League title sponsors Betfred unsurprisingly make the Aussies odds-on favourites to win the WCC, but as we’ve always known – and proven in this particular fixture in the past – never write off the Saints!

Meanwhile, the domestic action kicks off on the same weekend as the World Club Challenge, and it will be fascinating to see where the biggest challenge will come from to stop Saints’ domination.

Here are a few new players to the Betfred Super League 2023, hoping to inspire their respective teams. Look out for: Josh Maguire (Warrington Wolves), Siosiua Taukeiaho (Catalan Dragons), Jake Wardle (Wigan Warriors) and Tex Hoy (Hull FC).

Let battle commence!

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