This Friday, the World Club Challenge returns in place of the World Club Series as Leeds Rhinos travel to Melbourne’s AAMI Park to take on the NRL Premiers Melbourne Storm.
TEAM FORM GUIDE
Melbourne kicked off their trial schedule with a 26-22 loss against the Newcastle Knights behind closed doors at AAMI Park. The Storm, however, had rested the likes of Brodie Croft, Curtis Scott, Billy Slater, Cameron Smith, Will Chambers, and Josh Addo-Carr. As a result, the six rested players come into the World Club Challenge fresh.
By contrast, Leeds come into this on off the back of two hard fought encounters in the Super League. The Rhinos backed up a good pre-season with two wins from their opening two Super League games (Warrington & Hull KR) and will look to build on the two performances in this one.
Melbourne have named a full strength side to line up against Leeds in this year’s World Club Challenge. Ryan Hoffman looks set to make his fifth appearance in a World Club Challenge in front of a crowd of over 20,000 at AAMI Park. Melbourne head coach, Craig Bellamy, has selected 13 of last year’s Premiership winning team, with Brodie Croft getting the nod to replace Cooper Cronk, who now plays for the Sydney Roosters. The rest of Melbourne’s star playmaking spine, however, remains in tact with Cameron Smith at hooker and Billy Slater at fullback.
On the other hand, Leeds bring in youth in the form of Josh Walters. The 23 year old in included as a consequence of a string of injuries in the pack for Mitch Garbutt, Mikolaj Oledski, Brett Ferres, Keith Galloway, and Nathaniel Peteru. Joel Moon returns to the 19-man squad after missing out against Hull KR with a hamstring injury. Ashton Golding is once again including in the traveling squad despite being left out on both competitive match days this season, while Stevie Ward retains his place after returning from a long injury layoff against Hull KR.
The two sides have met three times in the past 10 years and Melbourne remain the dominant side in this fixture, winning two of the last three meetings between the two sides. Leeds, however, come into this off the back of a perfect record in the Super League and Melbourne are just getting going in pre-season.
Both teams have lost talismanic playmakers in the off season with the Storm losing Cooper Cronk to the Roosters and Leeds losing Danny McGuire to Hull KR. The key battle in this one, therefore, will be between their replacements, in particular Brodie Croft. Croft, however, has far from disgraced himself in the NRL, with 4 tries in 4 games in 2017 and he will no doubt be an exciting inclusion this season. On the other hand, Richie Myler comes in to the Leeds side off the back of an average 2017 season with the Catalans Dragons. That said, Myler has already had a hand in a number of Leeds’ tries this season and looks to be making a positive impact for the Rhinos.
Both teams qualified for the World Club Challenge by winning their respective competitions. The Rhinos deservedly won the Super League Grand Final last season, beating the best team in the regular season, Castleford Tigers, in an error-strewn contest. Melbourne, however, won the regular season with a couple of games in hand and romped to a 34-6 victory in the final against North Queensland Cowboys.
The Rhinos face a stiff task as big underdogs and will need to win the battle up front to have any sort of chance of winning against the sensational defending NRL Premiers.
Leeds Rhinos head coach, Brian McDermott, weighed in on the contest:
“There’s a bit of added spice there. We’ve both been very successful teams.”
“I was talking to [Storm coach] Craig Bellamy, we seem to win competitions at the same time, there’s a healthy rivalry and respect among the clubs and we’re ready for it.”
“The noises they’re making, they’re up for it and it’s a ‘genuine’ World Club Challenge. They want to win this.”
“I just hope they don’t showcase two referees and it becomes a penalty-ridden game.”
The Rhinos beat Storm in 2008, but lost the past two finals against the club from Victoria in 2010 and 2013.
Melbourne: Slater; Vunivalu, Chambers, Scott, Addo-Carr; Munster, Croft; J Bromwich, C Smith (capt), Glasby, Kaufusi, Hoffman, Finucane. Replacements: B Smith, Asofa-Solomona, K Bromwich, Welch, Stimson, Tonumaipea, Kamikamica, Jacks.
Leeds (from): Golding, Briscoe, Watkins, Sutcliffe, Hall, Moon, Myler, Cuthbertson, Parcell, Singleton, Jones-Buchanan, Ablett, Ward, Dwyer, Delaney, Keinhorst, Ormondroyd, Walker, Walters.
THE IMPORTANT DETAILS
Date: 16th February 2018
Venue: AAMI Park, Melbourne
Kick-off: 09:00 GMT (8pm local)
WHO WILL WIN?
Melbourne are undoubtedly the stronger of the two sides all over the park and it wouldn’t be surprising to see them over the 20 point handicap. Leeds’ saving grace, however, is the fact that Melbourne are still in pre-season with a relatively untested half back partnership. Despite this, Leeds’ performances over the past couple of weeks have been far from convincing and show no ability for them to be able to topple the NRL Premiers. Melbourne Storm by 16+