Leeds Rhinos: World Club saga takes yet another new twist

Leeds Rhinos chief executive Gary Hetherington.
Leeds Rhinos chief executive Gary Hetherington.
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LEEDS RHINOS remain confident next year’s World Club Challenge showdown with Melbourne Storm will go ahead, despite a new twist to the long-running saga.

Rhinos are set to face the Australian champions in Melbourne on Friday, February 16, but New Zealand Warriors have announced a fixture against Storm for the following day.

Cameron Smith.

Cameron Smith.

Rhinos chief executive Gary Hetherington was unaware of that development, but said he is hoping for confirmation of the world-title match within a week.

Warriors’ website reports they will face Storm at Rotorua International Stadium, in New Zealand, on Saturday, February 17, but the annual clash between the European and Australasian champions could still take place if Melbourne split their squad between the two games, scheduled for venues 1,695 miles apart in different countries.

The Australian side have made it clear they will not travel to England, leading to Leeds offering to make the trip Down Under.

Storm are already due to play North Queensland Cowboys – the team they beat in this year’s NRL Grand Final – in a benefit game for Cameron Smith and Johnathan Thurston on Friday, February 23, which is the date originally scheduled for the World Club Challenge. Rhinos chief Hetherington is in Australia and has met with Storm representatives to underline Leeds’ enthusiasm for the tie, though he stressed it is up to Super League to agree a deal with Melbourne and the NRL.

Cory Aston.

Cory Aston.

He has not been informed about Storm’s trip to New Zealand on February 17, but admitted the World Club Challenge will be off the agenda if that date is ruled out.

“That is the weekend earmarked,” he said.

“We have no [Super League] fixture scheduled for that weekend, that is the window – it is an opportunity to play the game and it would have to be in Melbourne.

“We have confirmed we are prepared to travel and play on that weekend and we have got the full support of Super League who are committed to making it happen. I do know the NRL are very keen to see the game take place.

“Melbourne Storm are also keen to host the game, which would be the first time they’ve hosted it.

“There is a commitment from all sides to make it happen.”

Hetherington said Storm have “their own issues” over staging the tie, believed to include hire of the stadium and television coverage, but he added: “That’s what they are working through.

“We are hoping to have a positive outcome and to hear from Melbourne and the NRL in the very-near future.”

Super League general manager Mark Foster is also in Australia and the Evening Post understands he is in the final stages of confirming the fixture.

Meanwhile, the YEP understands Castleford Tigers are close to signing half-back Cory Aston from Rhinos. He is midway through a two-year contract, but has not been included in Leeds’ squad for 2018.