In this week’s League Express column ‘Pulling No Punches’, Garry Schofield had his say on Leeds’ World Club Challenge game with Melbourne. You can read content like this first every week in League Express.
If Leeds pull off the near-impossible and win the World Club Challenge on Friday by beating Melbourne Storm, it will be the greatest achievement in the club’s history by a country mile.
I don’t think they have a prayer, but I’ve said that before and been wrong!
I’m not having a pop at the Rhinos, it’s just that Storm are the greatest club side I’ve ever seen in Rugby League. I rate them above the great Wigan sides I played against and the Canberra, Manly and Brisbane teams that dominated the 1990s.
This Melbourne team, with the likes of Cameron Smith and Billy Slater, tops the lot, even without Cooper Cronk. I just can’t see how Leeds can get near them. Craig Bellamy has built the most incredible dynasty. They never turn out bad teams and never even seem to have difficult patches.
The Rhinos will miss Danny McGuire more than the Storm will miss Cronk, not because McGuire is the better player, but because as long as Melbourne have Slater and Smith, they are still the world’s best team. Other great players like Greg Inglis have left Melbourne and haven’t really been missed. They’ll still be a great side without Cronk.
Leeds, on the other hand, will find life in a big game without McGuire very tough. His Old Trafford performance against Castleford was easily the best individual performance in 20 years of Grand Finals. With Joel Moon not 100 per cent fit, the onus is going to be on Richie Myler to create enough chances for the likes of Kallum Watkins and Ryan Hall. As a Leeds fan, I’m not confident he will make any real inroads against a team like Melbourne.
Leeds were average for most of last season and were handed the Super League trophy firstly by Zak Hardaker’s stupidity and secondly by the fact that Castleford couldn’t handle the big stage. Leeds generally do find a way to win – as they did on Thursday against Hull KR – but that’s in Super League. The Storm are a different kettle of fish. The Rhinos will need to be ten times better than they were against Rovers.
The loss of Anthony Mullally to add to Keith Galloway, Mitch Garbutt and Brett Ferres leaves their pack far too light. I can’t see how they can go toe to toe with the Storm forwards. They might have to use Jamie Jones-Buchanan as a prop and Jimmy Keinhorst in the back row. You can get away with that in Super League, but not against Melbourne Storm.
If Melbourne turn up with the right attitude, then there’s only one winner. I’ll go for them to win by about 24 points, but I fear that if Leeds don’t play well it could get a lot uglier than that.
People will inevitably compare this game to Wigan going to Brisbane in 1994, but that wasn’t the big shock that it was made out to be. The Broncos had lost form and were struggling a few months into the 1994 season when the game was played. Wigan might have had a bit of a prop crisis, but they still had a team full of stars elsewhere.
This doesn’t really compare to that. It gives me no pleasure to say this, but the Rhinos have absolutely no chance of beating Melbourne on Friday.