FOR any hooker – for any player, for that matter – coming up against Cameron Smith is the sort of experience that must be relished.
Admittedly, many have been terrorised by the Australia captain’s repertoire of skills that have made him one of the sport’s modern greats but to face him is an ultimate test of a player’s own make-up.
That is why Leeds Rhinos’ Matt Parcell will be looking forward more than most to today’s World Club Challenge against NRL premiers Melbourne Storm.
An Australian himself, he made a terrific impact during his debut season at Headingley last year, helping them to the Super League Grand Final and earning himself a place in the Dream Team, too, as the competition’s best hooker.
Now, with Parcell back on home turf, the former Manly rake realises he must take his game to another level if he is to get on top of Smith, the 34-year-old veteran Queenslander who still seems to barely even break sweat during a match.
“I’ve played against him a couple of times,” said Parcell.
“Personally, it’s a big challenge. He’s obviously a legend of the game and he’ll probably go down as an ‘Immortal’ so, for me, it is a big challenge.
“But I am looking forward to it. As the week’s gone on and we’ve got closer to the game we’re all looking forward to this more and more.”
Leeds’s task is not helped by the fact they are without four regular props – Parcell’s fellow countrymen Mitch Garbutt, Keith Galloway and Nathaniel Peteru plus Anthony Mullally while even rookie Mikolaj Oledzki is sidelined.
Parcell conceded it may mean Rhinos will change their style for the title-decider at AAMI Park but said they will be able to cope despite being under such strain in the middle.
It makes the challenge harder definitely but I guess we’ve just got to adjust our style; we don’t have the big guys to out-muscle Melbourne so we just have to change the way we play to suit the guys we do have.Matt Parcell
“We can cope but it is difficult,” said Parcell.
“Unfortunately, it’s the one position where our big guys have all gone down at once.
“It makes the challenge harder definitely but I guess we’ve just got to adjust our style; we don’t have the big guys to out-muscle Melbourne so we just have to change the way we play to suit the guys we do have.”
Parcell’s pace and sniping runs around the ruck could be even more invaluable to help ease the pressure at times against a side not only containing Smith but the brilliant Billy Slater, too,
The 25-year-old admits the sense of occasion is clear to see for Leeds as they bid to become only the second English team to lift the World Club Challenge on Australian soil.
“There is a real big-game buzz to things,” added the former Brisbane Bronco, who struggled to make his mark in the NRL but immediately lit up Super League.
“It’s definitely big and, for me, one of the biggest games I’ve ever played in. Everyone understands the task of coming over here and trying to play Melbourne so it is a big occasion; it is a final.
“To be World Club champion would be an unbelievable achievement especially coming over here to win it.
“We know it will be a very tough game. They are a very, very good team but everyone’s looking forward to this.”
Although Melbourne have still yet to even have their first trial game of 2018, Parcell firmly believes they are taking today’s game seriously.
“They definitely don’t want to lose and will want to be World Club champions, just like us,” he said, with team-mate Ryan Hall preparing for his 350th career game.
“I think they’ll take it very seriously. The players they have rise to the occasions and this is a big occasion.
“They might play it down a little but behind the scenes this will be a massive game for them.”
That is especially so given the contest is expected to be close to a sell-out as Leeds and Melbourne renew their rivalry – this is the fourth time the clubs have met at this level and each is hoping to draw level with Wigan Warriors by claiming a fourth title.
Parcell conceded the 10,500-mile trip has had an effect on the Leeds squad, who must also fly back home immediately in readiness for next week’s Super League game versus Widnes Vikings.
“It’s taken a bit more out of everyone than even I thought it would,” he said.
“I guess playing a game, as we did v Hull KR, and then going straight on a plane made it a little bit harder.
“Everyone took a little bit longer as everyone was pretty stiff and sore after the trip.
“But after a few days here everyone started to feel a bit free and good. Hopefully, by Friday we’ll be all sweet.”