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Rhinos pride at World Club international Challenge

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George Riley George Riley | 18:40 UK time, Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Leeds players may not openly admit it, but they have had one eye on the World Club Challenge from the moment the Old Trafford hooter confirmed their historic Grand Final success over St Helens in October.

Amidst the blood and thunder of weekly rugby league, Friday night affords a one-off opportunity for the Super League champions to take on Australia's best for the club game's top prize.

And that is not a fact lost on Leeds who, for the first time, host the fixture in their Headingley backyard rather than at a neutral venue - if you can call Elland Road that.

"It will be good for us," coach Brian McDermott admits. "But I reckon it will work for Manly, too, because they will thrive off the intensity the Headingley crowd generates. Manly should arrive with an 'any patch of grass' attitude."

Manly beat Leeds Rhinos 28-20 when the two sides last met in 2009

I spent Monday afternoon at the Headingley Carnegie Stadium as Manly arrived for their first look around ahead of Friday night's game.

Several of the players, who had spent the previous day watching Warrington thrash London at the Halliwell Jones, were both jetlagged and very cold when they arrived in Leeds. Forward Joe Galuvao had five layers and two hats on when I interviewed him in mid-afternoon. He says he acclimatised for the trip by sitting in his fridge.

While I sensed a 'lads on tour' vibe from the Sea Eagles - they even arrived in the kind of minibus usually reserved for rowdy stag parties - the mood in the Rhinos camp was very much a buzz of excitement.

The message after Leeds's loss at Wigan on Saturday was that the World Club Challenge had not distracted the team's focus from the first two rounds of Super League.

But the error-strewn nature of the loss mirrored their defeat at Harlequins the week before last season's Challenge Cup final. And on both occasions I would argue the players' eyes were one week off the ball.

Indeed, one member of staff told me on Monday they were actually keen to get past the Manly fixture so "we can get back to normal again". Like it or not, such a big game just two matches into the new domestic season, has been a distraction. But the Rhinos are hungry to make it count.

While the Super League champions' talk was of an opportunity to beat the world's best, the Manly players tell me that for them this is as much about a pre-season bonding trip as it is a chance to start the year with a trophy. That may be true, but once that hooter sounds and that Aussie pride kicks in, there is not one player in either shirt that will see it as anything other than an England versus Australia cup final.

For me, the argument that the British club takes this competition more seriously than the Aussies doesn't wash anymore. Manly have brought a full-strength squad dripping with Origin and international talent. Jamie Lyon, Steve Matai and Tony Williams are not here for a pre-season holiday. Galuvao also tells me it also a welcome trip out of the country for the squad to escape what he describes as "crazy media scrutiny" they have received in Sydney since the sudden departure of coach Des Hasler in November.

Meanwhile, Leeds see it as a simple opportunity for England to beat Australia. "It's well documented how our national team fares against the southern hemisphere so many people look to this game as our best chance to beat them," says McDermott who admits Leeds were "exposed" by Wigan last week. "It is easier to motivate my players off a good performance, but we haven't been dealt that hand. We will get it right, it will work for us."

I had several pre-season chats with McDermott and chief executive Gary Hetherington about the club's recruitment policy. The Rhinos way has always been to promote from within, with very rare big-name, big-money overseas signings. Hetherington did travel to Australia in January to see what was available, with a centre and second rower top of his list.

But with the inflated wages that Australian NRL clubs can now offer with a lucrative new television deal and with the UK suffering against the Aussie dollar, it has become an almost impossible task.

Both Hetherington and McDermott insist they will never favour spending money on an overseas player unless they are confident he would improve the option they already have in that position.

The lack of any such signing therefore is a huge pat on the back to youngsters Kallum Watkins, Zak Hardaker and Ben Jones-Bishop.

While these players are experiencing the big-game atmosphere very early in their careers, one man at the other end of the career path is bidding to make history. England captain Jamie Peacock has played in five World Club Challenges and seeks a record-breaking fourth victory. He tells me the most he knows about Manly is that "it is a nice place to go on holiday".

He adds: "Moments like this are special and you need to savour and enjoy. The NRL is seen as the benchmark. Players get frustrated here at the perception from Australia of how Super League is played. We want to show them what we can do. Our reward for winning Super League is the chance to go on and prove we are the best in the world".

When England plays Australia at any sport it is bloodthirsty. When the two heavyweights stepping into the ring are rugby league champions, the canvas is likely to tremble.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    It's a nice idea George, but it's not England versus Australia - it's Leeds versus Australia and no amount of talking by the media will change that. Due to the parochial nature of rugby league in the UK, more than half of the non-Leeds Super League fans are likely to be cheering for Manly.

    If English "fans" are prepared to boo one of their brightest young stars when he is wearing an England shirt, then I don't see how they will support an entirely different club. Sad but true.

    Outside of Headingley Carnegie, Leeds are not well thought of by other clubs supporters, quite possibly due to their success in recent years. However the influence of Gary Hetherington at Red Hall and some of his opinions haven't exactly helped.

    For what it's worth, I think Leeds have a good chance of winning if they start strong and catch Manly cold (pun intended); however if it is level at half time, I think that they will struggle to hold on against a side that has so many representative players.

    Lastly, the idea that Super League is on a par with the NRL is frankly ridiculous. If Manly were two games into their regular season facing Leeds who had yet to play, at the Sea Eagles ground, then there would only be one winner. There are perhaps 5 clubs in Super League who could be expected to "compete" in the NRL - however I can't believe any of them would be in the mix to win it if they played a whole season down under.

  • Comment number 2.

    Come on Manly!!

  • Comment number 3.

    As a Pom and a Manly fan living in Sydney I'm looking forward to the contest. The weather this summer in Oz should have prepared the Sea Eagles for the ravages of Leeds - it's been a shocker.

    George I need to pull you up on one point. There is no newly negotiated lucrative television deal, that was the AFL - the NRL negotiations haven't started yet. I do however concede that the overvalued Aussie dollar has stemmed the talent flow to Super League.

    Don't underestimate the effect that the departure of coach Des Hasler to the Dogs will have on Manly. He is up there with Bennett and Bellamy as the best coach in Australia. In addition it's still pre season in Oz but if the Manly forwards can front up the bright young halves of Cherry-Evans and Foran will set up Stewart, Matai and the Wolfman who will run Leeds ragged.

    It's great to see some of the boys come over and not only give the NRL a crack but excel. Slamming Sam, Gareth Ellis and Graham Widdop have given the UK game respect in Australia. I hope that James Graham does the same.

  • Comment number 4.

    @1 I thought most NRL fans hated Manly with a passion (indeed many even went so far as to support the NZ warriors in the grand final) so not sure it's even Leeds vs Australia!

    Until we start going to Australia to play the NRL teams will never really take the WCC seriously. When they lose they blame the lack of preperation, jetlag or the weather, when they win it's proof that the NRL is better. The NRL is certainly more intense than the Super league with a lot more teams with a realistic chance of winning it and that won't change no matter what the result on Friday.

  • Comment number 5.

    Really looking forward to the game tomorrow night. Despite being a Saints fan, I've bought a ticket and will be cheering on the Rhinos against Manly. It'll be a tough game but close.

    Friday night is a celebration of the game and the two best clubs sides from either hemisphere last year playing against each other. We should be enjoying it rather than moaning about it and arguing about which league is better etc, but I guess that is against the nature of RL fans in general!

    Good luck to the Rhinos and long live the greatest game!

  • Comment number 6.

    Would love Leeds to win but in terms of support more generally in the UK for them I, sadly, basically agree with Post 1.

    Particularly agree with the last point made in Post 1. In fact the league (here) should really be renamed, with out the word "Super".

  • Comment number 7.

    Matthew in post 1 has it spot on, apart from the Hetherington comment.

    I'm a Leeds fan working among many fans of other yorkshire clubs (Bradford, Cas, Hudds) and can categorically state that they ALL want Manly to beat us soundly come Friday.

    The reason for the above is simple, and it comes in two parts:

    a. We're a successful club in recent times. Simple as that.

    b. Leeds are the major city in Yorkshire and the towns around it have a raging jealousy. It's the same with Leeds United. This small town mentality is ignored by the VAST majority of Rhinos fans, however much fans of our 'rivals' believe we care. Our rivals are in fact Wigan, and in more recent times St Helens.

    Australia v England? Pfffftt!

    More like ROW v Leeds. Bring it on.

  • Comment number 8.

    May the best team win - though I hope not - come on Leeds !! Nice to see running Rugby back on TV...roll on summer !

    WCC should be in somewhere neutral...then again its amazing the Aussies actually come over for this game.....sooo insular....bring back the Ashes !!!!!! Every four years - there is room for ENG & GB ! NEED to beat the convicts to show the Int RL is alive a kicking

  • Comment number 9.

    I'm a Saints fan, I will be cheering for Manly, they have Jamie Lyon.

    Any rugby league fan knows Manly are hated by fans of every other team in the NRL, I won't cheer for a rival because they are an English club, it is Manly Vs Leeds not England Vs Australia, I don't cheer for Liverpool in European football, why should I cheer for Leeds tomorrow?

    Manly will win and they will win big.

  • Comment number 10.

    George, the match tomorrow night isn't England versus Australia, it is Leeds versus Manly. It's a club game and not an international.

    I'll be supporting Manly, not least because Jamie Lyon is playing for them and in a club game involving two clubs that aren't my own, that's as good a reason as any to support one of them! I can't watch a rugby league match as a neutral; I always have to support ONE of the teams. I prefer supporting Jamie Lyon to anyone in the Leeds team.

    If this was indeed an international, I would be supporting England regardless of who was playing.

    As it is ... come on Manly! Stuff the Rhinos!

  • Comment number 11.

    Wait.... England PLAY Rugby League?

    "It's well documented how our national team fares against the southern hemisphere"
    That says it right there.

    England can't compete with Australia in the Rugby world. As for the comment on the "Overvalued dollar" Well, no not really. Australia's economy is in good hands unlike that of the UK. Practically third world over here.

    It's probably better for English RL that they use their own players otherwise their talent pool will slowly diminish
    from poor to ridiculous.

    If it was England vs Australia then it probably would be an even more embarrassing result for England.

    Manly to win. Prove me wrong

  • Comment number 12.

    NSGB,

    Bit of a chip on your shoulder mate. Let me guess, Aussie living over here?

    Back on topic, looking forward to the game, and glad it's on a Friday night here, and thus Sat morning in Oz - makes it practical for Aussie fans to be able to watch, as opposed to it being on Monday morning when it has been on Sunday night recently.

    The fact it's pre-season (for them) doesn't help it's Oz profile either. For me should be played a week or so after the Grand Finals, so it's at the business end of the season. Rebrand it the Global Grand Final and give us our own show-piece a la Champions League/ Heineken Cup. Could be played in opposite country to 4 Nations each year, so there is always show-piece international RL in each hemisphere very year.

    People seem to want to take the WCC on the road to promote the sport, but I think more needs to be done to promote it within the sport 1st, especially in Oz. You have to build a product before you try and sell it to the wider sporting public.

  • Comment number 13.

    I hope Manly stuff Leeds you can bet if it was Saints playing tonight fans of other teams would be cheering for Manly

  • Comment number 14.

    Never liked Leeds since a game at Headingly at the end of the 1994/95 saeson Leeds where in with a chance of wining the league and Saints beat them the abuse we got that night was dreadfull and it wasn't just teenagers and blokes in their 20's but people in their 50's and 60's

  • Comment number 15.

    Non-ChavGav - Fair to say, I'm being harsh. It's just all the same media articles every time an Australian rugby team plays an English team. Remember all the hype about Tomkins before the Four nations? England have a chance etc
    I would really like to see England challenge on the world stage more often in these formats. The best game I saw in the FN was England beating NZ. I don't think the WCC gets enough respect TBH and it doesn't do much for the advert of Rugby League.

    I hope it's a tight game tonight but I can only see one team winning this.

  • Comment number 16.

    wonder what the 2 prix in commentry box will make of the 1st half both anti leeds. As for manly they should have had a man sent off for the pile drive as this was the 3rd time of this type of tackle. c'mon rhinos...............

  • Comment number 17.

    Ooops , That didnt go to plan for all our australian wannabees did it . Any Manly shirts for sale ???? LOL

  • Comment number 18.

    There you go NSGB. 'Sure' it's just because of jetlag and pre-season! Now the competition has got a shot in the arm, let's get it move to the end of the season and get it to Oz this year - no 4 Nations this year so can't be suggested there would be a fixture pile up. Means end of next season could be back in the UK, which would increase the profile of rugby league just before the world cup.

  • Comment number 19.

    Mildly happier that 1) An English team won and 2) It was an exciting game for once. I could outline some pretty poor decisions by the referee i.e. forward pass for the second to last try as one, but who really cares? Manly were clearly undercooked. Kicking it out on the full? Dropping the ball? If others follow the NRL (which I'm sure they do) they'll notice this wasn't the Manly team that won the title.

    In all its glory Leeds held on and deserved the win. Fairness to that, but how can the WCC officials get away with hosting the match always in England, during their season. It doesn't make sense and only makes it more embarressing for an English club in defeat to an NRL team considering their pre-season and travelling 12k miles for an away match.

    Don't get it. If they're now talking about more international fixtures like this then it has to be also on Australian terms. It's like winning a running race against an unfit athlete, ad glorifying the moment. Perplexed.

  • Comment number 20.

    If the WCC can't get NRL in favour of this competition on a regular basis then there is really no hope for it to generate more publicity.
    Considering most of the best players are in the NRL, and losing this competition would only mean one less fixture on the calendar, not to mention the State of Origin and the All Star games, there has to be more incentive for teams to take this seriously.
    Last WCC and the one before that I didn't even watch, I didn't even know it was on. But I still watched the Four Nations, the Grand Final of NRL and the State of Origin. I bet I'm not alone on this.

  • Comment number 21.

    What a victory.

    Attack - Ryan Hall, superb. Rob Burrow was his jinking self as usual.

    Defence - everyone to a man defended that line in the 2nd half. Manly were camped out, not to mention a constant string of penalties.

    Obviously the Leeds haters will start talking about 'other factors', but I garauntee you that Manly gave EVERYTHING they had last night, and came up short against the mighty Rhinos.

    Well done boys, proud of ya.

  • Comment number 22.

    @ not_so_great_britain

    'Kicking it out on the full? Dropping the ball?'

    a. No one kicked it out on the full did they? They just didn't find touch (it also happened to Leeds). Unless I missed that.

    b. There isn't a rugby league player alive who hasn't dropped the ball on occasion, I fail to see your point there.

    Come on mate, that was a bit thin. You could at least revert to type and say we cheated or something..

  • Comment number 23.

    whitehart - yes, a Manly player (don't know which one) kicked out on the full on one occasion.

    Manly looked underdone. Any coach will tell you that the training ground is no preparation for a competitive game of rugby league. Only playing matches prepares a team for that. Manly had played 40 minutes against a second tier club prior to flying out here. Their senior players had decided that was all it took to prepare, which was either arrogance or lack of interest. Either way it was obvious they hadn't played together since their GF as they were misfiring all over the place, just as a number of our teams were two weeks ago when the season started. In addition to that, Leeds got lucky in having blind touch judges with forward passes - the second of which was blatent - leading to two tries, and an interception try while exciting for fans is not what a coach wants to rely upon to win games. Leeds were firing on all cylinders in the first half but they weren't as good in the second. Had this match been played two games into the NRL season or if Manly had prepared as well as St George did last year then I believe that Manly would have won the match in that second half.

    I think there has been a bit of OTT reaction to this match. It isn't England v Australia and there is incredible bias towards the Superleague team. It's a bit of a farce really in competitive terms. By rights it should be held after the Grand Final and in a neutral country. That would be the only way to determine which is the real club world champion. To hold it two rounds in to the SL (but with the NRL season two weeks away) at the home stadium of the SL team is just ludicrous.

 

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