THE WORLD’S best player says this week’s showdown with Leeds Rhinos will be one of the biggest games of his glittering career.
Two-time Golden Boot winner Cameron Smith will captain Melbourne Storm against Rhinos in the Downer World Club Challenge on Friday. Last year Smith led Storm to top spot in the NRL, a Grand Final win and was captain of Australia’s victorious World Cup squad and Queensland, who won the State of Origin series. But he insists victory at AAMI Park in three days would match those achievements.
“I have been lucky enough to play in two World Club Challenges and both of those matches were against Leeds in England,” Smith recalled. “It is just as important as the other big matches I have played in my career.
“It is nice to be able to win a World Club Challenge and be crowned the world champion club side.
“Having the opportunity to play in front of our home fans – which has never been done in Melbourne – is very exciting. We are really keen to play in front of our own fans and play well.”
Smith and fellow World Cup star Billy Slater returned late to pre-season training, but the Golden Boot winner said there is no danger of either of them not being ready to play on Friday.
“I feel really good,” Smith insisted.
“Myself and Billy needed a good break after last year.
“We played a lot of football games. I think I played about 33 matches so it was a big year, but we have been playing the game long enough now to know we have to return in good shape.
“We did a little bit of work on our own before we returned to the full-time training squad, so physically I am feeling quite refreshed.
“It was good to get back into training a couple of weeks ago and the big thing for me is building combinations with the new players.
“We’ve lost four or five of our premiership team from last year so we have new faces in our team.
“It has been a short preparation for such a big game as Leeds in the World Club Challenge.
“They have had two games together in their own competition before coming out to Australia.
“We haven’t played together yet, but the training prep’ has been great and I am confident of playing, hopefully, most of the match.”
Asked if having two Super League games under their belt will be an advantage for Leeds, Rhinos boss Brian McDermott admitted “maybe”.
But he stressed: ““We haven’t been great in those games”.
Rhinos forward Brett Delaney is confident of being available, despite suffering concussion in last week’s game.
Storm officials say a crowd of more than 20,000 is expected at Friday’s tie.