Former Sea Eagle Kylie Leuluai believes it will be anybody’s game when Leeds Rhinos face Manly next month.
Rhinos will be out to overturn their 28-20 defeat by the Aussie outfit in the 2009 World Club Challenge when the sides meet in a re-match in exactly three weeks’ time.
The game has extra significance for Leuluai, who made 57 games for Manly between 2004-2006 before joining Leeds.
As well as the beaten 2009 team, he was a member of the Rhinos side which lost to Melbourne Storm the following year, after victory over the same opposition in 2008.
Leuluai has confirmed he plans to retire at the end of this season and February’s Heinz Big Soup-sponsored showdown will be a last chance to get his hands back on the World Club trophy.
He hasn’t spoken to anybody at Manly about the game, but Leuluai insisted a difficult off-season won’t affect the Aussie champions.
Geoff Toovey will be in charge of the Manly team for the world title match after coach Des Hasler controversially left to take over at Canterbury Bulldogs.
But Leuluai predicted: “That won’t bother them. The players are still the same and they will come here and play the same way.
“They will be full-on, they are like that every game. They just want to win, that’s what they are like.”
Headingley Carnegie will stage its first World Club Challenge, after Rhinos’ four previous games were staged at Elland Road, but Leuluai doubts that will give them a significant advantage.
“We should have had an advantage the last time we played them, at Elland Road, but we still lost,” he said.
“It’s good for us to be playing at home and it should be a sell-out, but I don’t think it will worry them.”
Rhinos have two Stobart Super League games – at home to Hull KR in a week’s time and at Wigan Warriors eight days later – before they face Manly on Friday, February 17.
The two competitive fixtures will be good preparation for Leeds, but Leuluai stressed they can’t rely on Manly being disrupted by a lack of match fitness.
“They will be ready to play,” he said.
“They are going to be taking it seriously. Since I have been in the UK, in the last five years, the British teams have only won once. “Times are changing, the Australian teams really want to win it now and they see it as a big game. That’s what Manly will be doing.”
Beating his previous club would make victory even sweeter for Leuluai, after the disappointment of three years ago.
“We have been talking about it,” Leuluai admitted.
“It is a big game for us. They are all big games, but this is a special one.
“You don’t get a World Club Challenge every year. I am lucky that this will be my fourth, but you don’t take them lightly.”
* Meanwhile, Rhinos’ Magic Weekend fixture against Bradford Bulls – at Manchester City FC’s Etihad Stadium – will be staged at 4pm on Sunday, May 27.
* Former Leeds Rhinos star Matt Diskin and Australian Heath L’Estrange, rivals for the hooking role at Bradford Bulls this season, have been appointed as the club’s joint captains for 2012.