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The phoney war is now over. Melbourne are here somewhere and hopefully getting a good dose of hypothermia in the snow and our last league game against Salford is out of the way.
To be honest, if you think I didn’t like Manly last year, then I have a distinct dislike for our next opponents. There is still unfinished business between them and us for that game at Elland Road in 2010.
Let’s not forget about Melbourne’s status shortly after that game, stripped of their 2009 Permiership down under for breaches of the salary cap, effectively cheating the NRL rules and yet the international rugby league authorities seem quite happy to allow Melbourne to at least retain their 2010 WCC title (I understand that the NRL has sent us the winners monies, but frankly we’d rather have the kudos of the title).
Even before they played the game on 2010, there was plenty of press coverage of Melbourne trying to influence the match officials and there’s certainly debate over the 2010 game just how effective it was. Thus, it seems somewhat surprising that again they are being held up as a positive example (this week’s ‘masterclass’) so soon after they were caught red handed fiddling the salary cap. I can’t take away the fact that they have some great players and a good coaching set up, but let’s not forget the championship domination that Leeds have achieved over the last nine years. Shouldn’t our own domestic success be held up as something to emulate ? And at least we’ve managed without breaking the competition rules either.
Whilst I must admit that I am not a fan of the game being held at Headingley, at least at Elland Road (even though it was a few miles across the city) it was just as neutral and alien to us, as it is to Melbourne. There are some advantages of the game being held on our own turf.
I think one of the major factors behind the victory against Manly last year was the fact that it was held at Headingley and with most of our fans in their regular places in the stadium. At Elland Road, no one quite knew where to go. Some of the noisiest Southstanders found themselves on the Kop and seating is never the best way to get a good crowd atmosphere going. Others were in the South Stand at soocer stadium, whilst other were scattered in various parts of the ground. Certainly Manly appeared to be taken aback by the wall of South Stand noise that hit them as they ran out last year and I guess that even seasoned Australian internationals used to the sanitized atmosphere of UK international matches were not quite used to the sound generated by a domestic UK rugby league crowd and their domestic players, encountering this sort of thing for the first time were certainly perturbed at what they were facing from the fans.
There’s all the hype in the papers this week about Billy Slater this and Cooper Cronk (the man with two surnames ?) that and the likes of Ryan Hoffman, who spent a couple of years at some minor, insignificant club in Lancashire. Let them worry about Sinny (I wonder if he is going to get cynically taken out this time … And I wonder if the match official is going to do anything about it if he does ?) JP, Danny Mags and Robbie, not to mention the rest of our lads.
Like so many times in the recent past, we go in to a big game with the finger of fate not being kind to us. It is likely that we’re going to be without Zak (or the services of his logical replacement at full back BJB) and of course, The Most Feared Man In Super League to put himself about in their pack. Just as the 17 men we put this Friday have to be on the top of their game, so do the rest us 20-odd thousand packing the terracing. We too have to be at our best. One of the heartening things during the latter half of the Salford game was the ceaseless chants bigging up some of our main players. We need that and more. I remember back in the early 90s, Doug Laughton (the then coach) effectively wrote a call to arms to the fans in his column in the paper prior to the ’94 cup semi final calling for the fans to assist a Leeds side that had not seen Wembley for 17 years. It was the fans that day that was the team’s extra man at Wigan.
We need that sort of support again, an unrelenting barrage of noise.
Make it loud, make it proud, make it noisy and make it supportive of our boys.
Good luck and Godspeed to all of you participating (so I guess that makes it all us, both on and off the field) on Friday and let’s hope that fate is smiling on us again as we become DEFENDING WORLD CLUB CHAMPIONS !