Home-spun philosophy can help Rhinos to record World triumph

IT IS through gritted teeth that Leeds Rhinos’ Danny McGuire begrudgingly acknowledges the similarities between his club and Manchester United.

An ardent Leeds United supporter, regularly seen at Elland Road, he hates even having to mention the very name of their arch enemies.

Yet when trying to put his finger on the root of Rhinos’ unparalleled success over the last decade, which sees them aim for a record fourth World Club Challenge title against Melbourne Storm tomorrow evening, the comparison is unavoidable.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

McGuire, 30, the prolific half-back, is just one of many stellar players who graduated with honours from Leeds’s Academy and decided to spend the rest of his career at Headingley.

Fellow internationals Rob Burrow, Ryan Bailey, Jamie Jones-Buchanan and, though from a slightly earlier class, captain Kevin Sinfield are the rest, all of whom were there in 2004 when the West Yorkshire club finally secured a first title in 32 years.

There have been five more Grand Final wins since and a trio of World Club Challenges, too, including last year’s epic victory against Manly Sea Eagles and a similarly impressive 2008 triumph over tomorrow’s opponents.

McGuire, who will make his 300th Rhinos appearance tomorrow, recalled: “The club recognised we’d a really good batch of players coming through together.

“We had been so successful in the Academy and it was just what we needed to do – bring local, hungry players who had been developed by the club into the first-team.

“We were lucky we had a really good bond. The majority of lads had been on tours together when we were younger and been team-mates for years.

“In 2004, we had a lot of hungry young players and a great coach in Tony Smith, who started the culture and a way of going about things that we’re still doing.

“There are a lot of similarities to the way (Sir Alex) Ferguson went about bringing through (David) Beckham, (Ryan) Giggs and (Paul) Scholes.

“I think it’s what you’ve got to do in Super League now with the salary cap. We’ve Australia and rugby union to compete with so we’ve got to develop our youngsters, bring them into the system early and make them great players.

“That’s how England as a country and Super League as a competition will get stronger.”

Leeds’s belief in promoting youth can be likened to that great Premier League vintage fashioned by United chief Ferguson in the mid-1990s but Melbourne have enjoyed similarly unrivalled levels of success in the NRL without following the same recipe.

“They’re probably a bit different to us because they don’t produce their own players as much, Melbourne being such a strong Aussie Rules area instead,” added McGuire, about opponents who have appeared in five of their competition’s last seven Grand Finals.

“But they seem to have a great culture as a club in terms of success and what they’re doing in the NRL is very similar to us.

“We’ve played them a couple of times in World Club Challenge games and they’ve both been really tough battles.

“I’d imagine that Friday will be no different.”

Just as McGuire, Burrow and Sinfield will bid to take control in midfield then, as they have done for so many of their combined 1,000-plus Leeds appearances together, so will the Storm’s triumvirate of Cameron Smith, Cooper Cronk and Billy Slater.

“I don’t watch too much NRL but they don’t need any introduction do they?” admitted McGuire, about the creative axis that also provides the backbone of Queensland’s formidable State of Origin side and Australia, too.

“I’ve played against them a few times and they’re great players. But Melbourne have quality across the park. Gareth Widdop has been really good for them, so it’ll be tough.

“We need to keep an eye on those three but they’ve others who are capable of hurting you if you focus too much on them.”

Widdop, Melbourne’s Halifax-born play-maker who emigrated to Australia at 16, was initially a deputy for full-back Slater. He made a fast-tracked England debut in that position in 2010 but has since evolved into Storm’s first-choice stand-off.

Now Widdop, 23, is one of many half-backs, including McGuire, who will be battling to earn the right to presumably partner Sinfield, the England captain, at the 2013 World Cup this autumn.

A big performance in the World Club Challenge would give the dominant player a decent start.

Vickery’s quick recovery for Leeds

Australian Joe Vickery’s remarkable recovery from an ankle injury has resulted in him earning a place in the Rhinos’ 19-man squad for tomorrow night’s encounter.

Zak Hardaker (thumb), Ryan Bailey (knee) and Ben Jones-Bishop (long term) are out but Brett Delaney and Jamie Peacock, who missed Friday’s win over Salford, return.

New Zealander Tohu Harris, a Junior Kiwi who was recruited from Wellington three years ago, makes a debut for Melbourne in place of injured second-row Kevin Proctor.

Harris, who turned 21 last month, is a graduate of the club’s Under-20s programme and signed a contract extension midway through the 2012 season.