NRL Premiers Melbourne Storm host Super League champions Leeds Rhinos at AAMI Park on Friday as the sides go head-to-head in the Downer World Club Challenge.
The Storm qualified for the game after easing to a 2017 Grand Final win with a 34-6 win over North Queensland Cowboys, and are hoping to secure their third World title after previously doing so in 2000 (v St. Helens) and in 2013 (v Leeds Rhinos). Melbourne also won the 2010 World Club Challenge, beating Friday’s opponents Leeds, but were later stripped of the honour due to a salary cap breach.
In 7 previous World Club Challenge appearances, Leeds have beaten their Australian counterparts on 3 occasions having overcome Canterbury Bulldogs in 2005, Melbourne Storm in 2008 and Manly Sea Eagles in 2012. All three of those triumphs took place in Leeds (2 at Elland Road, 1 at Headingley), and this will be the first time the Rhinos have travelled down under in an attempt to earn the right of being named the best club team in the world. If Leeds were to win on Friday, they would equal the record for most World Club Challenge wins (4) currently held by Wigan.
As mentioned, Melbourne and Leeds have come up against each other three times in the past, and it’s the Australians who currently have the upper hand with two wins from the three games. Leeds won the first clash in 2008 by a scoreline of 11-4, but Craig Bellamy’s side won the following two contests 18-10 in 2010 and 18-14 in 2013.
The Storm go into this match with just one pre-season game under their belts, a 26-22 defeat to Newcastle Knights, as their NRL campaign does not get underway until the 10th March. Leeds, however, are already 2 rounds into the Super League season, winning both of their opening fixtures against Warrington and Hull KR.
Melbourne have named a full-strength side to take on the Rhinos, with 13 of the players in their 21-man squad playing a part in their Grand Final success. The main changes to the side see Brodie Croft come in at scrum-half to take the place of the legendary Cooper Cronk, who departed the Storm in the off-season to join Sydney Roosters. Experienced forward Ryan Hoffman returns to the squad as he begins his third stint with the Storm after spending 2 years in New Zealand playing for the Warriors, and will play in his fifth World Club Challenge.
Leeds are able to call upon 12 members of their Grand Final winning squad for this game, although they will have to wait on the results of fitness tests for Joel Moon, who missed out on the win over Hull KR due to a hamstring injury, and Brett Delaney, who was forced off in that game with a head knock, to find out if they can play a part at AAMI Park. Other changes see Anthony Mullally (fractured finger) replaced by Josh Walters and Mitch Garbutt drop out of the 19 with last week’s hat-trick hero Jimmy Keinhorst taking his place.
The squads in full are:
Melbourne Storm- Billy Slater, Suliasi Vunivalu, Will Chambers, Curtis Scott, Josh Addo-Carr, Cameron Munster, Brodie Croft, Jesse Bromwich, Cameron Smith, Tim Glasby, Felise Kaufusi, Ryan Hoffman, Dale Finucane, Brandon Smith, Nelson Asofa-Solomona, Kenny Bromwich, Christian Welch, Joe Stimson, Young Tonumaipea, Tui Kamikamica, Ryley Jacks.
Leeds Rhinos- Ashton Golding, Tom Briscoe, Kallum Watkins, Liam Sutcliffe, Ryan Hall, Joel Moon, Richie Myler, Adam Cuthbertson, Matt Parcell, Brad Singleton, Jamie Jones-Buchanan, Carl Ablett, Stevie Ward, Brad Dwyer, Brett Delaney, Jimmy Keinhorst, Jack Ormondroyd, Jack Walker, Josh Walters.
Date: Friday 16th February.
Venue: AAMI Park, Melbourne.
Kick-off: 20:00 local time/09:00 GMT.