On tour Down Under: Hull FC’s Gareth Ellis backs Leeds Rhinos to rise to the Challenge

Gareth Ellis: Keeping fingers crossed for Rhinos.
Gareth Ellis: Keeping fingers crossed for Rhinos.
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THOUGH he is firmly ensconced as a Hull FC legend, there will always be a part of Gareth Ellis that remains Leeds Rhinos.

That is why the Black and Whites football manager will avidly be watching when his former club face Melbourne Storm in the World Club Challenge tomorrow.

Admittedly, Ellis will be in Manly, a little further north up the Australian east coast, logistically unable to be in Melbourne to witness the latest showdown between the Super League and NRL champions.

He needs to be in Sydney for touring Hull’s fixture with St George-Illawarra on Saturday, which follows last week’s 24-10 defeat against Wigan in Wollongong, the first Super League game held outside of Europe.

Nevertheless, the former Great Britain second-row, who was in the Leeds side that defeated Melbourne at Elland Road in the 2008 decider, is relishing the contest.

Storm have reminded everyone this week that this is their first run-out of the campaign whereas the West Yorkshire club has a raft of pre-season friendlies and two Super League wins under their belt.

I think it will be a tough game but, putting my Super League hat on, I hope Leeds can get the job done.

Hull’s former Leeds star Gareth Ellis

Ellis, who also played in the first of Rhinos’ three triumphs versus Canterbury Bulldogs in 2005, told The Yorkshire Post: “That’s often the case isn’t it?

“The Super League side has had a few round or friendlies before the NRL side has actually played. But Melbourne are a formidable team.

“I don’t think there’s any NRL side that has been around as successful for as long as they have.

“There seems to be ups and downs in the NRL but they seem to be the ones who are able to sustain success.

“There must be a reason for that and it’s probably the people involved at the club, both the players buying into the ideas of the coach, and the people around that.”

Coach Craig Bellamy has been in situ since 2003 and “that’s phenomenal in itself,” admitted Ellis, a regular opponent of Melbourne, Cameron Smith, Billy Slater et al during his four years with Wests Tigers.

“It’s almost like Arsene Wenger. The fact that Leeds have flown out straight after a game will obviously be tough as we’ve found out with Hull.

“I think it will be a tough game but, putting my Super League hat on, I hope Leeds can get the job done.”

It will be tough, indeed; although the analogy with Wenger is correct in some ways, it differs in that Melbourne continue winning titles, last year’s being the fourth under Bellamy.

That said, Melbourne have lost one of their other long-serving talismen – Australia scrum-half Cooper Cronk – to Sydney Roosters so perhaps they will be vulnerable.

“We’ve had some decent battles with Aussie sides recently with the World Club Series and World Club Challenge success last year,” added Ellis, Wigan beating then premiers Cronulla Sharks and Warrington Wolves also seeing off Brisbane Broncos.

“It’d be nice to see us do well on the back of what we and Wigan have been doing these last two weeks.

“A win would certainly put Super League on the map and make people stand up. But we are behind them and we will be – I think – for a long time.

“But it’s nice to see we’re being innovative and trying new things and that’s the way we need to go to really promote the game.”

Leeds head into the World Club Challenge without Danny McGuire or Rob Burrow after they finished last term, moving on like Kevin Sinfield, Jamie Peacock and Kylie Leuluai did two years earlier.

Ellis, who retired after Hull lost their Super League semi-final at Leeds last September, said: “I’ve hardly seen any Super League as I missed the first game to fly out here a bit early. But I suppose yes, it is strange to see them without those icons, and it really is the end of the golden generation.

“Jonesy’s still hanging in there, though, isn’t he?”

His former second-row partner Jame Jones-Buchanan, who has spent his entire career at Headingley, turns 37 in August.

Ellis, 36, explained; “He wanted to do 20 years and he mentioned it to me before. He said ‘if you’re going around, I’m going around again!’

“I chose to hang up the boots but he’s gone on anyway and now got one over me.

“It’s really good to see, though, and just testament of what a professional he really is.

“I’m just so pleased to see he’s playing on and, like in the past, playing in big games like he is on Friday.

“It is a new team, a different team, and he’s been there since being a young lad.

“He had a lot of injuries earlier in his career but now he’s a leader in that team and I think the way he plays is testament to that.”

Dave Craven is on tour with Hull FC in Australia in association with Ladbrokes.com