Leeds look out of their depth in Melbourne clash
Gulf in class should tell for NRL champions
Melbourne Storm v Leeds
Sky Sports Action, 9.05am Friday
When England lost last year’s Rugby League World Cup final 6-0 to Australia, there was talk that the gap between the hemispheres has closed. But if the betting on the World Club Challenge is anything to go by, the gulf is bigger than ever.
Leeds, by some distance the most successful side in Super League history, go into their clash with NRL Premiers Melbourne as the biggest underdogs ever in this event.
The Rhinos have been written off as 9-1 no-hopers as they head into the Storm’s back yard.
This is the fourth time these clubs have clashed in the WCC. The Australian outfit have won twice but all of those meetings were in Leeds and this is a much stiffer test for the Super League champions.
The last time this fixture was played down under four years ago, Wigan were blown away 36-14 by Sydney Roosters and bookmakers are expecting something similar with the Rhinos receiving 20 points on the handicap.
Melbourne coach Craig Bellamy has named 11 of the players who started the Storm’s Grand Final rout of North Queensland.
Legendary half-back Cooper Cronk has left for the Roosters and has been replaced by Brodie Croft while the returning Ryan Hoffman comes in for the departed Tohu Harris.
The Rhinos have major injury problems in the pack with Mitch Garbutt, Keith Galloway, Anthony Mullally and Nathaniel Peteru all sidelined. Stand-off Joel Moon expects to shake off a hamstring problem.
Leeds’s one advantage is fitness. Brian McDermott’s men have played two league games whereas the NRL kick-off is still three weeks away.
However, Melbourne have spent three days in an army camp as they bid to start this season as they finished the last. The Storm won their last ten games in 2017, culminating in a 30-0 semi final drubbing of Brisbane and a 34-6 grand final hammering of the Cowboys.
It’s difficult to see how the Rhinos can post enough points to be competitive. Eight times last year Melbourne kept their opponents to six points or fewer and they can be backed at 9-5 to prevent Leeds reaching eight points in this match.
The odds about the Melbourne keeping the visitors tryless are worth taking too. Three years ago, St Helens failed to trouble the scorers against South Sydney.
The game is being played with two referees, as is normal in the the NRL, so a high-speed game is in prospect which spells a long and difficult night for the Rhinos, who will do well just to keep the scoreline respectable against the relentless Melbourne juggernaut.
Early on Saturday morning, Wigan take on an understrength South Sydney side who are without England’s Sam Burgess and a host of other big names, while Hull face St George Illawarra Dragons, who boast Gareth Widdop and James Graham in their ranks.
Bookmakers have been reticent to price up the fixtures but Wigan are expected to go off favourites while the Black & Whites should receive a sizeable start on the handicap.
4pts Evs bet365
Leeds to score fewer than eight points
1pt 9-5 Paddy Power
Leeds not to score a try
0.5pt 13-2 Paddy Power
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