Storm & Rhinos go head-to-head in World Club Challenge
|World Club Challenge – Melbourne Storm v Leeds Rhinos|
|Venue: AAMI Park, Melbourne Date: Friday, 16 February Kick-off: 09:00 GMT Coverage: Live text commentary on the BBC Sport website and app.|
Super League winners Leeds Rhinos can equal Wigan’s four World Club Challenge wins by overcoming National Rugby League premiers Melbourne Storm.
Leeds qualified by beating Castleford in October’s Grand Final, while Storm defeated North Queensland in the NRL showpiece to secure their spot.
The Rhinos beat Storm in 2008, but lost the past two finals against the Victoria club in 2010 and 2013.
This is Leeds’ first fixture in the competition to be played in Australia.
While Brian McDermott’s side have already played two Super League games and won them both in preparation for their trip down under, Melbourne Storm do not begin their NRL campaign until 10 March.
“There’s a bit of added spice there,” McDermott told the Rhinos’ website. “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.”
Big shoes to fill on both sides
There was an interesting symmetry to Leeds and Melbourne’s Grand Final triumphs, as both said farewell to key players in the aftermath of their success.
Leeds’ triumph was the perfect send-off for Danny McGuire and Rob Burrow, who made 916 appearances between them, while one of the world’s finest half-backs Cooper Cronk ended his 323-game spell at Storm with a second premiership.
McGuire, in particular, had been a key figure in previous encounters, notably scoring a memorable length-of-the-field try in the 2010 fixture.
Former Warrington and Catalans half-back Richie Myler has already been under the spotlight this season as McGuire’s replacement, with Brad Dwyer brought in to cover Burrow’s retirement.
Melbourne head coach Bellamy has handed Cronk’s number seven shirt to Brodie Croft, who has just five first-grade appearances to his name but scored a hat-trick against Newcastle Knights last season as evidence of his talent.
The 20-year-old will have the support of skipper Cameron Smith and full-back Billy Slater – both World Cup winners with Australia and who form the spine of the Storm side – to help him through the game.
Leeds have taken advantage of their week in the Melbourne sunshine to discover and explore, adding life experiences to their footballing education down under.
Skipper Kallum Watkins, Stevie Ward and Ryan Hall popped up on the set of popular soap Neighbours for some filming duties.
Players from both sides visited the local zoo, and in particular the rhino enclosure, for a promotional venture.
One different aspect that will affect Leeds on the pitch is the confirmation that there will be two referees as there is in NRL matches, rather than just the one on-field official in Super League.
“We’re not happy about this, it’s been forced upon us,” McDermott added.
“The term used was international rules, and that’s refereed by one referee. I don’t think the second referee is going to find any cynical or sneaky play from us.
“I just hope they don’t showcase two referees and it becomes a penalty-ridden game.”
Leeds have brought in back-rower Josh Walters to cover for prop Anthony Mullally, who suffered a painful finger injury and had to miss the trip.
Versatile back Joel Moon missed the win against Hull KR with a hamstring problem, but it is hoped he will be fit to feature in his regular stand-off role.
Melbourne Storm have selected 10 of their starting line-up from the 2017 Grand Final to begin the game, with Kangaroos World Cup winners Slater, Will Chambers, Cameron Munster, Smith and Felise Kaufusi included.
Croft, Tim Glasby and ex-Wigan back-rower Ryan Hoffman are the players to come into the starting XIII, with Jordan McLean and Tohu Harris missing out.
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.