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Storm quartet blown off course

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George Riley George Riley | 10:00 UK time, Friday, 26 February 2010

If Melbourne's navigational skills on the pitch are as good as those off it, then Leeds could well have a chance in Sunday's World Club Challenge, which pits the NRL champions against the kings of Super League.

Four of their players turned up for the "Pie, Peas and Rugby League" night I hosted at Headingley on Wednesday slightly later than anticipated. In truth, the Storm entourage arrived only marginally behind schedule. But after rejecting the offer of a cab to make their own way to the ground, their subsequent travails as they looked to find their way along the darkened back streets of Leeds amused the assembled punters immensely.

The "Evening with Melbourne Storm" was a big success. It was terrific to see a sell-out, and great to see the Melbourne boys interacting so well with the Leeds fans during the Q&A session. Rising star Gareth Widdop, prop Ryan Tandy, joker Dane Nielsen and the unassuming and hugely likeable Willie Isa fronted up to be bombarded by a barrage of questions, all of which were taken in good grace.

Critics of the World Club Challenge have always pointed out that the match is played before the start of the Australian season, thus boosting the chances of the Super League-sharp British side lifting the trophy. That may be so, but this set of Aussies want to redress the balance badly this weekend.

"We don't want a wasted flight to the other side of the world," said Nielsen, while Tandy admits it hurts to lose to the Poms at anything. When I brought up the Ashes, he quickly reminded me he was an Ireland international...

Melbourne Storm Melbourne warmed up for the World Club Challenge with a comfortable win over Harlequins

This is clearly a very united Melbourne squad, primed to claim the title that Leeds pipped them to two years ago. As part of a team-bonding exercise, the Storm players were sent off in groups to see a West End show in London last week. Very few lasted the pace. Tandy tells me he left the musical "We Will Rock You" at the interval because Cameron Smith was bored and Billy Slater had fallen asleep and was dribbling on his shoulder.

As for Leeds' preparations, they suffered another major setback when it was confirmed that winger Scott Donald won't play again for three months. The Aussie will have a shoulder reconstruction on Monday after suffering a dislocation against Salford. With injuries already hitting Brett Delaney and Carl Ablett, it could be time for Kallum Watkins to come of age. And what chance an early end to Ben Jones-Bishop's loan at Harlequins?

Away from the World Cub Challenge, the big story of the past few days has been Terry Newton's failed drugs test. The Wakefield hooker had his Wildcats contract torn up after becoming the first ever sportsman to test positive for the banned Human Growth Hormone. He can now put his feet up for a couple of years to think about his misdemeanour, if indeed he does play again.

The Newton case should prove a huge wake-up call for any player taking drugs and shatter the myth that you can take HGH and not be caught, as my 5 live colleague Gordon Farquhar explained in his excellent blog.

One piece of Gordon's research revealed that Newton's positive test had come from intelligence. Would that mean a tip-off? From another player, or club colleague? The Rugby Football League tell me that this is absolutely not the case. The 31-year-old was tested because he fits the profile of the kind of player the RFL thinks should be tested.

The crackdown targets players deemed to be towards the end of their careers and thus those who are seeking to prolong their playing days. This includes those Super League players who drop down into the Championship. The second target group is young players who have recently stepped up into the senior squad from the academy, and may therefore be looking to bulk up.

With Newton the first sportsman ever to be caught taking HGH, the RFL's breakthrough has been reported worldwide, as far afield as the New York Times. The word on the other side of the pond is that baseball players are now concerned that their sport will follow rugby league's lead.

The RFL claim to receive a fair amount of "tip-offs" on players suspected of taking banned substances, all of which are thoroughly investigated. Neither one of the two most recent high-profile cases, Gareth Hock or Richie Barnett, were intelligence-led.

Talking of Gareths, Gareth Thomas and his advisors have been in Wrexham this week in a bid to thrash out a move to Crusaders. No deal has yet been done, but Thomas would become the first openly gay Super League player if he did join. The RFL is also the only sports governing body signed up to the lesbian, gay and bisexual charity Stonewall.

Finally, the stars of Coronation Street got a little bit of a shock last week from one of Super League's PR agencies Generate. Corrie actresses Michelle Keegan and Helen Flanagan posed with ex-cast mate Lucy Jo-Hudson to launch the rugby league Co-operative Championships. The trio were handed referees kits, although with hot pants instead of the traditional shorts worn with such style by the likes of Steve Ganson and Ian Smith. So skimpy were the pants that the girls refused to wear them.

I'm on 5 live sports extra duty this Friday as high-flying Wakefield go to St Helens. Saints emailed the BBC ahead of the game with parking advice for myself and co-commentator Adrian Morley. "I have a pass for Moz, but George will have to park on the street, I'm afraid." Fair enough, they're a good bunch at Knowsley Road. And I am a Yokshireman after all.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    I am not a fan of these type of games because it disrupts our fixture calendar. I like the idea of starting a season with a full weekend quota of 7 games instead of 2 games on week 1 and the rest starting a week later. The Aussies are not overly affected (ironically!) and I doubt we'll see a WCC game in Australia any time soon in it's current format due to travelling strains on the SL side who would have a game around 4/5 days after touching back down in England. Personally I feel a competition, in pre-season, between the top sides in SL and NRL, would be the best way to solve this.

    On the issue of Gareth Thomas, I think it is a shrewed move by that old wiley dog Brian Noble. With Wales dominated by Union, and League fans realising how good GT is, it would draw massive interest from both codes and that will affect Crusaders strongly and put them in the spotlight. I hope that comes off and RL builds positively in Wales.

  • Comment number 2.

    Would that really be a good idea, a pre season tournament? I think it's better that we have our own friendlies within our nations, especially as it can draw a big crowd for lower league clubs if they play a super league club, along with the big pay day they get. If that pro league in america takes off, or the french pull their finger out and push for a fully pro league of their own, then a pre season tournament between those champions may be feasable.

    George, there is a little championship round up on the rugby league pages. Do you know if this is because it's the season kick-off there, or is it going to be a weekly thing?

  • Comment number 3.

    if internationaal club rugby is deemed more competitive equal to national sides squaring up, then do a 4 team mini league every 2 years, with the winners from the previous two seasons.

  • Comment number 4.

    hi

 

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