Opinions are divided over how much of a disadvantage Melbourne Storm‘s inactivity since the end of the NRL season will be when they face Leeds Rhinos in this week’s Probiz World Club Challenge at Headingley Carnegie.
Match fitness has definitely been a factor since the format was changed to a one-off game between sides from Europe and Australia, British teams winning eight of the 12 matches since the turn of the century. But Melbourne Storm have been responsible for two of Australia’s four victories and one of those came against the Rhinos in 2010, though Leeds had edged out the Storm two years earlier.
The current Melbourne squad is reckoned to be the best they’ve ever produced. Coach Craig Bellamy and captain Cameron Smith have been with the club for a long time. The latter, along with full-back Billy Slater and half-back Cooper Cronk are mainstays of the Kangaroos and would walk into any team in the world. They may have travelled halfway around the world and be a little under-cooked but class is permanent and they’ll be meeting a Leeds side with a host of problems. Zak Hardaker, Ben Jones-Bishop and Ryan Bailey are all sidelined but Kevin Sinfield was as productive as ever in last week’s mauling of Salford City Reds, Danny Maguire will be busy behind the front line and the return to fitness of Joe Vickery will be a massive boost for morale. So can the Rhinos quell the Storm for a second time in six years and retain the World Club Challenge trophy?
Sportingbet don’t think so as they have the Super League Grand Final winners at 15/8 whereas they are as short as 11/8 in several other places. You should take up their offer if you think home advantage will be the deciding factor. However, I can’t really overlook the fact that Melbourne have so many quality players in their ranks and, despite fears over fitness, all are available. The Aussies even have a strong bench so tiring forwards can be replaced without too much distress and I really can’t see Leeds winning this one. The Storm are 3/5 to win with bwin (1/2 is a more common price) and the 9/5 available with Paddy Power for the visitors to win by up to 10 points also looks value.