World Club Challenge
Melbourne Storm v Leeds Rhinos
Friday, February 16, 8pm (AEDT), AAMI Park, Melbourne
|Match (AEDT)||Recommended Bet|
|Melbourne v Leeds
|Leeds +21.5 ($1.90)
The World Club Challenge sees Super League champions Leeds go in as massive outsiders against NRL premiers Melbourne. Australia will also host the World Club Challenge for the first time since the Sydney Roosters were victorious over Wigan at Allianz Stadium in 2014.
Melbourne is poised to name a near-full strength side for the WCC against Leeds, with new recruit Sam Kasiano set to miss the clash after suffering an ankle injury in the Storm’s trial loss to the Newcastle Knights. The Storm will also face life after Cooper Cronk, with both Brodie Croft and Ryley Jacks expected to get an opportunity in the halfback position. Tohu Harris and Jordan McLean have moved on from the 2017 NRL premiership-winning side, while Ryan Hoffman returns to Melbourne after his stint across the Tasman with the New Zealand Warriors. Leeds have named a 19-man squad, but are also missing plenty of firepower in the engine room. Mitch Garbutt, Mikolaj Oledzki, Brett Ferres, Keith Galloway and Nathaniel Peteru are all sidelined through injury. Meanwhile, Joel Moon missed the Super League win over Hull KR, while Brett Delaney left the field with concussion and needs to pass a fitness test to take his spot here. the Rhinos also won’t have the influential Danny McGuire to call upon after he made the switch to Hull KR in the offseason.
Melbourne have played in four World Club Challenges, winning three of them, although they were stripped of the 2010 World Club Challenge due to salary cap breaches. Leeds will play in a record-setting 8th World Club Challenge, winning three and losing four along the way. Melbourne and Leeds have met on three previous occasions in the World Club Challenge. The Rhinos defeated the Storm 11-4 in the 2008 World Club Challenge, with the Storm winning the 2010 (18-10) and 2013 (18-14) editions of the World Club Challenge against the Rhinos. Four of the last six World Club Challenges have been won by NRL sides, while Wigan did the job for Super League last year, defeating the Cronulla Sharks by 22-6.
Melbourne lost a recent trial 26-22 to the Newcastle Knights and the World Club Challenge will be the first hit out for 2018 for plenty of their stars. Meanwhile, two rounds have been played in the English Super League, with Leeds winning their opening two fixtures. They edged past Warrington 16-12 in Round 1 and followed it up with a 20-11 victory over Hull KR, with late-replacement Jimmy Keinhorst scoring a hat-trick.
The battle of the fullbacks will definitely be of interest here, with 2017 Clive Churchill Medal winner, Billy Slater taking on Ashton Golding. 2018 could be the end of the road for ‘Billy The Kid’ as he approaches retirement, and it will be a tough ask to top 2017. The Storm fullbacks body held up well enough to see him win another Origin series with Queensland, win another NRL Premiership, take out the Clive Churchill Medal for a second time and win the Rugby League World Cup with the Kangaroos. Slater will go down as arguably one of the greatest fullbacks of all-time. Golding takes back the No.1 jersey off Jack Walker, who can consider himself very unlucky after a strong start to the Super League season. Walker is rated as one of the hottest young prospects in the Super League and was excellent in the Rhinos Round 1 win over Warrington with 18 carries for 128 metres. The pressure will be on Golding to repay Brian McDermott’s faith in him and decision to move Walker to the bench.
The Storm definitely have the stronger side on paper, but unfortunately they have only played the one trial match, whereas Leeds have played two tough matches in the Super League and should be starting to hit their straps. The injury toll to the Rhinos forward pack is a major concern, but The Wolf is more concerned about the Storm coming out flat, especially as they try to work out their combinations with a new No.7, whether it’s Brodie Croft or Ryley Jacks. The Storm have enough class across the board with the likes of Slater and Cameron Smith to get the job done, but the 21.5 line seems excessive. The Wolf will be sticking with the Rhinos with the big start.
How It’s Shaping Up
Melbourne by 13
Leeds +21.5 ($1.90)