The Rhinos are bidding to win their third World Club Championship as they take on the Sea Eagles at Headingley. Victory would signal the first time we'd held the trophy aloft since 2008, when we beat Melbourne Storm by 11-4 at Elland Road, the same venue that witnessed the 39-32 win over the Canterbury Bulldogs three years earlier.
With the exception of the injured Lee Smith, Brian McDermott has a fully fit squad to choose from. It must have been an agonising decision to settle on his nineteen, let alone have to whittle that down to seventeen later today. Bern Jones-Bishop and Ian Kirke both get recalled to the squad after being out of favour for the first two games of the season, and Kallum Watkins is back in the side after his late withdrawal from the side at the DW last weekend.
Big Mac has named his ninteen as; Brent Webb, Ben Jones-Bishop, Kallum Watkins, Zak Hardaker, Ryan Hall, Danny McGuire, Rob Burrow, Kylie Leuluai, Paul McShane, Jamie Peacock, Jamie Jones-Buchanan, Carl Ablett, Kevin Sinfield, Brett Delaney, Ryan Bailey, Ian Kirke, Chris Clarkson, Weller Hauraki, and Darrell Griffin. My money would be on McShane and Kirke being the unlucky ones from a strong looking Rhinos squad.
There are nine players in the Manly twenty who played in their win over the Rhinos in 2008 including all the players who scored points. It is a new coach for the visitors as Geoff Toovey takes over at the top. They have a few players returning from injury such as co-skipper Jason King and David Williams who is coming back from a broken neck.
The Aussies have been in the UK for over a week and Leeds have allowed them to use the training facilities at Kirkstall Road to prepare for the game.
The twenty man squad is named as; Brett Stewart, David Williams, Jamie Lyon, Steve Matai, Michael Oldfield, Kieran Foran, Daly Cherry‐Evans, Jason King, Matt Ballin, Brent Kite, Anthony Watmough, Tony Williams, Glenn Stewart, Jamie Buhrer, Vic Mauro, Darcy Lussick, George Rose, Joe Galuvao, Ben Farrar, and Dean Whare.
Three Rhinos we're pinning our hopes on;
We've taken on the Sea Eagles once before in the World Club Challenge, back on the 1st March 2009, and on that occasion it was the Australian side who took the trophy back the New South Wales as they beat us 28-20 in front of thirty-five and a half-thousand people at Elland Road.
Twelve of the Rhinos named in tonights squad played in that game which saw the Sea Eagles boss the game from the outset and allow the Rhinos a little scoreline dignity in the closing minutes. On that occasion we were very well beaten, and the visitors will be confident of a repeat this evening.
Last weeks loss to the Warriors was no real indicator of what tonight will bring, and the Rhinos of 2011 showed themselves to be the knockout specialists by reaching the final of the Challenge Cup and winning the Grand Final by the hardest of routes. In a one-off game like this we've as good a chance as the Sea Eagles, and I am expecting the closest of all games, tipping a draw at the end of eighty minutes.
Ex-Superleague referee Ashley Klein has been given the whistle for the game and he will be familiar with many of the Rhinos players as well as knowing the Sea Eagles stars very well. In terms of impartiality he's a good choice as referee, but he was prone to the occasional clanger when refereeing in Superleague. At least it has saved us from a neutral referee, or the hairy halibut. Ian Smith is the video referee.
The bookies have given the Rhinos a four point start on the coupon so they are struggling to choose between the sides too. Leeds are 13/8 to win the game outright, with the Sea Eagles 8/15. Backing the tie would get you 18/1.
After a fine day there is a chance of some drizzle during the match but according the forecast it won't ever get any heavier than that. The temperature is forecast to stay up in double figures until after the final hooter and the unseasonably mild weather will favour the Sea Eagles more than the Rhinos who must have been hoping for a continuation of last weeks wintry weather.
Enjoy the game, give everything in your lungs for the lads, and by 9:45 tonight we'll hopefully be witnessing Sir Kev lift aloft the silverware as we're crowned World Club Champions.