Leeds Rhinos’ league prep could give them edge, feels Melbourne Storm captain Smith

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IT IS hard to imagine but Melbourne Storm captain Cameron Smith believes there are actually plenty of factors weighted in Leeds Rhinos’ favour ahead of Friday’s World Club Challenge.

Although the Super League champions have had to fly 10,500 miles, will only get four days build-up and are missing the same number of props from action, it is easy to see why the bookmakers have their revered NRL counterparts as clear favourites.

Opposite numbers Brian McDermott, of Leeds Rhinos, and Craig Bellamy, of Melbourne Storm, discuss Friday's World Club Challenge in Melbourne (Picture: Leeds Rhinos).

Opposite numbers Brian McDermott, of Leeds Rhinos, and Craig Bellamy, of Melbourne Storm, discuss Friday's World Club Challenge in Melbourne (Picture: Leeds Rhinos).

However, Australia captain Smith insists he does not think his own side will have it all their own way. Far from it.

Perhaps it is just an early bout of mind games from the Golden Boot winner who completed a memorable treble last term by also lifting the State of Origin shield and World Cup. But the 34-year-old hooker maintained: “We’ve lost four or five of our premiership team from last year so we have new faces in our side.

“It has been a short preparation for such a big game as Leeds in the World Club Challenge.

“They have had two games together in their own competition before coming out to Australia.

“We haven’t played together yet, but the training prep has been great and I am confident of playing, hopefully, most of the match.”

Although Kangaroos scrum-half Cooper Cronk has left, two-thirds of Melbourne’s darling midfield triumvirate remain with full-back Billy Slater and Smith also helping beat England in the World Cup final in December.

Smith and fellow World Cup star Slater returned late to pre-season training, but the Golden Boot winner said there is no danger of either of them not being ready to play on Friday.

“I feel really good,” Smith insisted. “Myself and Billy needed a good break after last year.

“We played a lot of football games. I think I played about 33 matches so it was a big year, but we have been playing the game long enough now to know we have to return in good shape.

“We did a little bit of work on our own before we returned to the full-time training squad, so physically I am feeling quite refreshed.

“It was good to get back into training a couple of weeks ago and the big thing for me is building combinations with the new players.”

Smith admits playing the decider in Melbourne for the first time is something that has invigorated him.

“I have been lucky enough to play in two World Club Challenges and both of those matches were against Leeds in England,” he said, referring to the 2010 and 2013 triumphs.

“It is just as important as the other big matches I have played in my career. It is nice to be able to win a World Club Challenge and be crowned the world champion club side.

“For us, having the opportunity to play in front of our home fans – which has never been done in Melbourne – is very exciting.

“We are really keen to play in front of our own fans and play well.”

With a 100 per cent start to their title defence following wins over Warrington Wolves and Hull KR, Leeds are certainly in form ahead of the contest, which almost did not happen after Storm initially refused to travel again to the UK.

Rhinos captain Kallum Watkins said: “These are the games you want to play in.

“It is tough, travelling over for a week and then going back and carrying on with the rest of the season.

“But for us it is an important and a massive game and it will be a fantastic result if we can get it.

“After the game, going back and trying to get back into the swing of things for Super League is going to be a challenge.

“We are playing against a fantastic side then we have to return and get ourselves prepared for another game (against Widnes Vikings).

“It’s a challenge to get that right, but the staff are doing a great job.

“It is chance for the boys to do something special and it’s important we enjoy this week and the game as well.”