LEEDS RHINOS head coach Brian McDermott believes lifting the World Club Challenge in Melbourne today would be an even greater feat than Wigan Warriors’ famous success Down Under almost a quarter of a century ago.
The Super League champions tackle NRL premiers Melbourne Storm at AAMI Park looking to claim the title for a record-equalling fourth time.
However, they have never competed for it before in Australia and just twice in the last 23 affairs has a British side travelled.
Wigan did so four years ago, losing 36-14 to Sydney Roosters in Sydney and before that the only other time was when the Cherry and Whites memorably stunned Wayne Bennett’s Brisbane Broncos 20-14 in 1994.
The hosts had the likes of Kangaroos stars Alfie Langer, Wendell Sailor, Steve Renouf and Glenn Lazarus in their ranks while Wigan were missing injured Great Britain props Andy Platt and Kelvin Skerrett and had Graeme West as caretaker coach, John Dorahy having been sacked just weeks earlier.
Nevertheless, inspired by man-of-the-match Shaun Edwards and in front of a competition-record crowd of 54,220 in Brisbane, they triumphed in glorious style.
For us to beat Melbourne over here we have to do something a little bit different; we have to bring a dynamic to this game which doesn’t compromise how we want to play but it’s something that Melbourne don’t normally deal with, too.Leeds coach Brian McDermott
The game is still reverently talked about, but given the stellar quality of this Melbourne team McDermott feels his side stand on the brink of even greater exploits.
“The chance of doing something that nobody has done since 1994 supersedes all the negatives you might be able to mention,” he said.
“People can say you’ve had to get on an aeroplane to get here or you’ve got to come back and play Widnes the following Sunday. I know all that.
“But we can do something that nobody has done since 1994 and go beat what people are regarding as the best team to have ever played in the NRL.
“So, wow, I’ll go do that. I’m up for that challenge. I think if we were to beat Melbourne over here it’d be a bigger achievement.
“The resource now into their sport, the dynamics of just how big a sport it is here right now compared to where we are at... we’re not too far in front of where we were in ’94 are we as a sport in terms of people watching, resource put into it, TV deals.
“There are some improvements and some very encouraging signs, but I think for us to come out here and beat Melbourne would be bigger than what Wigan did against Brisbane.
“Although that was a massive, massive thing and credit to Wigan for that; they are still the only team to have ever done that.”
There are some similarities – Leeds are without four injured props – and McDermott accepts his side must adapt.
“I’ve been asked if I think if we can do it,” he continued. “I think you have to recognise that the odds are stacked against you first, then come up with a strategy and a game plan that is effective.
“I’m not going to sit here and naively say to you ‘of course we can, if we keep hold of the ball and complete at about 85 per cent, if we have enough field position, we’ll beat them’.
“If I heard a coach say that, knowing he had a sizeable task, I’m thinking he doesn’t have the right game plan; he’s going to go into that game naively.
“So I’ll tell you now for us to beat Melbourne over here we have to do something a little bit different; we have to bring a dynamic to this game which doesn’t compromise how we want to play, but it’s something that Melbourne don’t normally deal with, too.
“Just keeping hold of the ball and playing field position won’t win us the World Club Challenge.”
Melbourne coach Craig Bellamy takes charge of his fourth World Club Challenge and has faced Leeds each time, beating them in 2010 and 2013 with his one defeat being against Brian McClennan’s Rhinos in 2008.
McDermott helped his West Yorkshire club beat Manly in 2012, but suffered those defeats to Melbourne and again, in 2016, to North Queensland Cowboys.
Because of the comparative regularity of their meetings, Leeds and Storm have certainly built up something of a rivalry.
“We know the build-up to the battle, for sure,” added McDermott.
“This will be the third time I’ve faced Craig Bellamy. We’ve faced in the World Club Challenge, but when I was at Harlequins Storm he played us there in a warm-up game.
“We had lunch together and he was very accommodating. I really got a lot from that meeting and I made a phone call to Craig a few years ago and just picked his brain on one or two things.”
Dave Craven is on tour in association with Ladbrokes.com