Melbourne Storm red-hot favourites to claim World Club titlePosted on 10/02 by Joe Gann
Melbourne Storm look to start the season with a trophy as they take on the Leeds Rhinos at AAMI Park
Weekly Expert Betting Tips - Join our free mailing listThe NRL Premiers line-up against Super League champions Leeds Rhinos at AAMI Park on February 16 overwhelming $1.08 favourites to win back the title they last held in 2013. It is only the third time that the contest has been held in Australia and the advantage of staging the event in Melbourne hugely strengthens the Stormís claims on the trophy.
A commanding 2017 campaign, in which the Victorians led the field from start to finish, ended with a convincing 34-16 victory over the North Queensland Cowboys in the October showpiece; the manner of the win emphasised the Stormís dominance over the rest of the competition.
The off-season has presented coach Craig Bellamy with several obstacles to overcome, principally how to deal with the losses of Cooper Cronk, Tohu Harris and Jordan McClean. With Brodie Croft likely to be promoted to the first team on a permanent basis, and an unrecognisable Sam Kasiano joining the ranks from the Bulldogs, together with old boy Ryan Hoffman returning home, Storm has the ready-made replacements waiting in the wings.
Bellamy has been forced to play down reports suggesting that the club are about to sever ties with talented playmaker Cameron Munster following reports of continuing off-field incidents. With the departure of Cooper Cronk, the young Queenslander will be an integral component of the Stormís title defence this year.
The recent loss to the Newcastle Knights in a closed-door trial match represented their first chance to blow the off-season cobwebs away, and once the competitive action recommences, thereís no doubt the Storm will be a different animal.
The Leeds Rhinos meanwhile, face a monumental challenge in their quest for the right to be heralded as the best in rugby league side on the planet. They face a Melbourne Storm side who led by Dally M winner Cameron Smith, dominated the NRL season last year and are heavily fancied to become the first side in competition history to retain the title this year.
This will be the fourth time that these two sides have met to contest the intercontinental event; with Storm coming out on top in 2010 and 2013, and Rhinos taking the spoils in 2008. That victory made it five consecutive wins for English teams over their Australian counterparts, consolidating a dominant period for the Super League.
However, in recent years the NRL representatives have turned the tables, winning four of the last five clashes.
Overall, the English have the upper hand with thirteen wins to eleven since the inaugural match in Sydney in 1976; although those figures are distorted by the fact that Australian sides have only enjoyed the benefit of home advantage on three occasions.
The Rhinos will be hoping to emulate the efforts of the England team whose efforts almost brought about stunning upset in last yearís World Cup final with the unfancied Lions on the wrong end of a nail-biting 6-0 loss in Brisbane.
As is usual practice, the English side approach the game with the benefit of having worked up some much-needed match sharpness in their opening wins over Warrington and Hull Kingston Rovers and they depart the UK basking in a 100% start to the new campaign.
That valuable competitive edge may make the Rhinos more battle-ready than their opponents, but they will need to overcome the effects of the 10,500-mile journey down-under, as they attempt to conquer the formidable Australian Champions in their own backyard.
Leeds Rhinos are to pull of a sensational win at the home of the Premiers.
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