EVEN FOR the most successful coach in Leeds Rhinos’ history, victory on Friday would be extra-special.
The Betfred Super League champions take on NRL winners Melbourne Storm in the Downer World Club Challenge.
It is the first time Leeds have travelled abroad for a world-title match and they are doing it in the season, after less than a week on Australian soil.
“It would be pretty big – massive really,” boss Brian McDermott said when asked how big an achievement bringing the trophy home would be.
“As a club we have had some success in World Club Challenge games and there has always been an element afterwards of a perceived disadvantage for the travelling team.
“For us to come over here, to Melbourne’s backyard, to try and do it over here – it is a big task.”
Most of Rhinos’ squad flew out of Manchester on Friday morning and arrived in Melbourne on Saturday night.
Tomorrow’s captain’s run was their third and final field work session, but they have also been preparing in the gym and pool.
“I have to say, the travel has not been that big an issue for us,” McDermott insisted.
“We are really keen to do this. When it was mooted we might play out here, we were really keen.
“We have played Melbourne, in particular, a few times and each time we’ve said afterwards ‘we’d rather do it in Australia’ it gives us 10 days’ break from our s****y weather!
“For us to be able to get the job done over here would be a big thing.”
Friday is Rhinos’ fourth meeting with Melbourne.
Leeds won at Elland Road in 2008 and lost at the same venue two years later, before another defeat at Headingley in 2013.
“There’s a rivalry,” McDermott said.
“I would hope there’s a healthy respect as well between us. To play in one of these games you have to win your own competition and that’s not an easy task. It is a huge journey and a huge story just to be able to win your own competition. When we won last season, that was a journey of two years for us.
“What it does then is give you an opportunity to play the best team in the NRL. It is a huge opportunity.
“I think more can be done with the concept though. If you play it in England, the Aussie teams are at a disadvantage.
“Play it here, the English teams are at a disadvantage. I think it is a concept we should keep and maybe progress and – I don’t know – maybe play it in Dubai or somewhere.”
Leeds will be without last year’s most influential player, Danny McGuire and star man Cooper Cronk has left Storm. McDermott suggested a possible move to the end of the previous season for the event, so the players winning their Grand Final would be the ones contesting the world title, though he admitted he doesn’t have the answers to how that would work.
Rhinos are without Anthony Mullally, who has a fractured finger, from the team which beat Hull KR a week ago.
He has been told he does not require surgery and is facing around two weeks on the sidelines. Joel Moon is expected to return from a leg injury and Brett Delaney has been cleared to play after suffering concussion last week, but Carl Ablett did not train today due to a groin problem.
Also in Leeds’ 19-man squad are full-back Ashton Golding and forward Josh Walters. Rhinos are without Mullally’s fellow props Keith Galloway, Mitch Garbutt, Nathaniel Peteru and Mikolaj Oledzki due to injury and back-rower Brett Ferres is also sidelined.
Eleven of Rhinos’ 2017 Grand Final team could feature on Friday – two fewer than in Storm’s side. Superstar scrum-half Cooper Cronk, has joined Sydney Roosters, prop Jordan McLean is now at North Queensland Cowboys and second-row Tohu Harris moved to New Zealand Warriors.
They are replaced in Storm’s starting side by Brodie Croft, Tim Glasby and Ryan Hoffman, who has returned to Storm from New Zealand Warriors.
Melbourne Storm: Slater, Vunivalu, Chambers, Scott, Addo-Carr, Munster, Croft, J Bromwich, C Smith, Glasby, Kaufusi, Hoffman, Finucane. Subs from B Smith, Solomona, K Bromwich, Welch, Stimson, Tonumaipea, Kamikamica, Jacks..
Leeds Rhinos: from Golding, Briscoe, Watkins, Sutcliffe, Hall, Moon, Myler, Cuthbertson, Parcell, Singleton, Jones-Buchanan, Ablett, Ward, Dwyer, Dellaney, Keinhorst, Ormondroyd, Walker, Walters.
Referees: Gerard Sutton and Ben Cummins.
Kick-off: Friday 9am GMT (8pm Melbourne).