Super League champions Leeds Rhinos are “not climbing Mount Everest”, but coach Brian McDermott conceded their injury-ravaged side do face a massive challenge against North Queensland Cowboys.
Sunday’s Dacia World Club Challenge will see 19-year-old Jordan Lilley line up at half-back against the world’s best player, Johnathan Thurston, in only his seventh senior game. He will be partnered by Liam Sutcliffe, 21, with captain Rob Burrow named at hooker.
Ash Handley has been recalled from a dual-registration spell at Featherstone Rovers and will be on the right-wing.
Anthony Mullally is set to make his competitive debut among the substitutes, alongside Josh Walters - who will play his first senior game since scoring the decisive try in last year’s Grand Final.
Rhinos are without Tom Briscoe, Carl Ablett and Ashton Golding, who all suffered ankle damage in last Sunday’s 56-12 defeat at Widnes Vikings.
Announcing his team, McDermott said Briscoe and Ablett could be out for six to eight weeks and Golding is still being assessed.
They have joined captain Danny McGuire and forward Stevie Ward on the long-term casualty list, but McDermott is hopeful Beau Falloon and Jamie Jones-Buchanan are close to a playing return.
McDermott said: “A game of this stature probably deserves to have both best squads out there, but it is what it is.
“Because of the adversity we’ve got at the moment it is a challenge, but we’re not climbing Mount Everest here.
“It is just a game of rugby league and we’ve got to get over the top of a very good team. We’ve done these things in the past, but we concede it is a challenge.”
In contrast, Cowboys coach Paul Green has named the 17 players who beat Brisbane Broncos in last year’s NRL title-decider.
He said: “Leeds have been a great club and a very strong team for a number of years consistently over a number of seasons.
“Obviously they know how to win and have a winning mentality. They have a very good culture and when you come up against teams like that there’s an expectation that whoever wears the jersey does the job.
“We are expecting a tough game. We will be playing in conditions we are not used to and there won’t be many cheers for us.”
Leeds Rhinos’ team is: Zak Hardaker, Ash Handley, Kallum Watkins, Joel Moon, Ryan Hall, Liam Sutcliffe, Jordan Lilley, Keith Galloway, Rob Burrow, Adam Cuthbertson, Brett Ferres, Brett Delaney, Brad Singleton. Subs Mitch Garbutt, Jimmy Keinhorst, Josh Walters, Anthony Mullally.
North Queensland Cowboys: Lachlan Coote, Kyle Feldt, Justin O’Neill, Kane Linnett, Antonio Winterstein, Michael Morgan, Johnathan Thurston, Matthew Scott, Jake Granville, James Tamou, Gavin Cooper, Ethan Lowe, Jason Taumalolo. Subs Rory Kostjasyn, John Asiata, Scott Bolton, Ben Hannant.