As the reigning NRL and Super League champions prepare to do battle in the World Club Challenge, concerns have been raised by a former NRL star and current doctor over the impacts of deadly heat in Sydney’s west.
The Panthers will take on St Helens at BlueBet Stadium, Penrith, at 6pm on Saturday; with temperatures forecast to still be between 36 and 40 degrees under the afternoon sun.
Former Souths forward Nathan Gibbs is the current Wallabies Rugby head team doctor and just returned from a trial match between the NSW Waratahs and Queensland Reds in Narrabri where temperatures hit 36 degrees.
Penrith has had all summer to get used to the heat in pre-season, but players and officials have been advised to take the weather seriously for player welfare
The St Helens side arrived in Australia after leaving conditions in the UK where the mercury dropped to just 2 degrees. Now they are facing a match in 40 degree heat
He warned of the risks involved with playing in such high heat, especially for the visiting St Helens players who have not had a pre-season in the Australian summer to acclimatise to the heat.
‘Serious heat illness can kill you,’ Dr Gibbs said.
‘Heat stroke is deadly. Heat stress doesn’t occur suddenly. You need the medical staff to closely monitor players who are starting to develop signs of dehydration, which include fatigue, cramping and exhaustion.
‘The Australian players have been training here all summer so they are acclimatised to the heat. Acclimatisation is a big part of preparing for heat stress.’
Dr Nathan Gibbs is a specialist sports doctor and has warned of the serious risks that the heat can cause after a trial match with the Waratahs in extreme weather
Adding to Dr Gibbs’ concerns, a NSW Cup referee was hospitalised over the weekend after suffering from dehydration while officiating a game in Penrith.
Although the referee has since been discharged, it serves as a reminder of the harsh conditions players and officials face during these matches.
The NRL has confirmed a series of player safety initiatives for the World Club Challenge, as they closely monitor the Bureau of Meteorology’s heat forecast for the west of Sydney.
Although there has been no suggestion of cancellation or postponement, the importance of ensuring the health and safety of all participants is top priority for the NRL.
NEW NRL HEAT RULES
With temperatures expected to soar, the NRL has taken action to ensure player safety during the World Club Challenge with new regulations including:
- Permitting each team to use 18 players
- Raising the number of interchanges from 8 to 10
- Providing additional hydration breaks through 20-minute quarters
- Easing restrictions on trainers carrying water onto the field
‘This comes through consultation and an agreement by both clubs and is in recognition of the conditions, particularly for a team coming from the northern hemisphere,’ NRL head of football, elite competitions Graham Annesley said.
‘Normally the World Club Challenge would be played under regular competition rules but as a concession to the expected conditions, we have relaxed those rules. The normal heat provisions will also apply.
‘The weather at this time of year is always hot, regardless of who is playing and where.
‘That’s why the NRL has heat guidelines in place which can be automatically kicked in once the two team doctors are satisfied there is a requirement for them.’
Paul Wellens concedes that playing in sweltering conditions in Sydney’s west on Saturday night will be tough, but the new St Helens coach and his players won’t be using it as an excuse heading into the World Club Challenge.
‘It is a big challenge, but one thing that people mention when we come to Australia is the heat, but people have to realise that we do occasionally have hot days in the summer in the UK and on our trips to Toulouse and Perpignan,’ Wellens said.
‘We played Castleford at Wembley in 2021 which was 100 degrees Fahrenheit pitch side, so the lads have had experience with these types of challenges. Obviously, it’s different from what we’re used to, but we’ve made no excuses.
‘The conditions are the conditions and we adapt accordingly.’
St Helens hooker James Roby said the players were fully acclimatised and ready to take on the Panthers after defeating St. George Illawarra in their trial match
The weather didn’t seem to affect them against the Dragons on Saturday as they cruised to a 30-18 victory, and veteran rake James Roby said the players were now used to the conditions ahead of their showdown with the Panthers.
‘We’ve been here for 10 days [before the Dragons game], so I feel like we’ve all acclimatised and we all coped well,’ he told the NCA NewsWire.
‘The weather is a bit different here because we’re still in the back-end of winter back home where it’s about 10 degrees on a really good day.
‘It’s a welcomed change for us as players to come to Australia where we can experience the sunshine and be near the beach. It’s all different to what we’re used to because we never get the chance to do things like that back in England.
‘The first couple of training sessions were a bit tougher because you’re getting used to being all sweaty and having to train with hats on, whereas back home we never needed to do that.’