The Brains of the Operation: Melbourne Coach Craig Bellamy is a huge advantage in this clash.
The 2013 World Club Challenge will be the 14th consecutive annual match between the kings of the world’s top two club rugby league competitions, with Super League title winner Leeds hosting National Rugby League champion Melbourne.
All of the last 13 World Club Challenge games have taken place in the United Kingdom and many of them have occurred after that year’s Super League season kicked off but before the start of the National Rugby League equivalent.
That goes a long way to explaining why Super League teams have won eight of the last 13 World Club Challenge matches even though no impartial rugby league fan would claim that the Europe-based competition is superior to the one played out in Australia and New Zealand. The gap may have closed substantially in recent years but a gap remains. For the record, since 2000, Bradford (three times), Leeds (three times) and St Helens (twice) have won the World Club Challenge for the Super League, with Melbourne (twice), Manly (once), St George Illawarra (once) and Sydney (once) doing the National Rugby League proud on foreign soil.
Visitors Firming As Favourites
Some bookmakers have been betting on the 2013 World Club Challenge ever since rugby league officials confirmed that Leeds and Melbourne would go to war in the Yorkshire city and, slowly but surely, the Storm have firmed as the favourites for the Headingley Carnegie Stadium match.
Generally available at odds of around 8-11 at the beginning of the year, one will be hard pushed to get better than 4-7 about Melbourne defeating Leeds for the second time in four years now. The Storm beat the Rhinos 18-10 in 2010 but rugby league chiefs stripped them of that World Club Challenge title as a result of their serious salary cap breaches.
Redemption is a powerful motivator for Melbourne and its outstanding coach, Craig Bellamy. As far as rugby league administrators are concerned, the Storm did not win three National Rugby League minor premierships, two National Rugby League Grand Finals and one World Club Challenge between 2006 and 2010. Everyone associated with Melbourne views it differently and is 100 per cent committed to proving that it can triumph over adversity. Overcoming Canterbury Bankstown 14-4 in last season’s National Rugby League Grand Final was the first step on the Storm’s road to recovery. Beating Leeds in this year’s World Club Challenge is the second.
Storm Superstars To Put Boot Into Sinfield
Another factor driving Melbourne’s will to win the 2013 World Club Challenge is the result of the 2012 Golden Boot poll that saw the Rugby League World-backed award go to Leeds skipper Kevin Sinfield. No-one is saying that the Rhinos captain is not a fine player and he has played a pivotal role in all of his side’s six Super League Grand Final victories since 2004 but he is not the world’s best. There are not one or two but three Storm players who would have been more deserving recipients of the prize.
Indeed, Melbourne superstars Billy Slater, Cameron Smith and Cooper Cronk are all in the top 10 in the first 2013 Golden Boot betting market, trading at odds of 4-1, 9-2 and 12-1 respectively. Sinfield is a 25-1 chance and not value at that price. One could put a zero on the end of the Leeds forward’s odds and still find incredibly few takers.
Brilliant Bellamy is Melbourne Mastermind
But, above all other things, the major reason why Melbourne is worth backing to overcome Leeds in the 2013 World Club Challenge is this: the Storm are a bloody brilliant team managed by one of rugby league’s sharpest minds ever.
The three most important positions in any rugby league side are fullback, halfback and hooker. Melbourne has the world’s best fullback in Slater, the world’s best hooker in Smith and one of the world’s halfbacks in Cronk. Slater is a once-in-a-lifetime fullback, a freak of a runner towards whom several teams have decided to stop kicking the ball, choosing to put it out of play. Like Slater, star hooker Smith could be the finest player in his position ever. And Cronk is a halfback who invariably makes the right calls.
Melbourne coach Bellamy is terrific at finding 14 players, at the right price, to play alongside the magicians called Slater, Smith and Cronk. And Bellamy’s recruitment going into the 2013 season appears, once again, to be really, really clever. Bellamy has recruited Brett Finch, most likely for peanuts, because the larrikin playmaker loves the Storm culture and he really, really, really wants to win a National Rugby League premiership. And Bellamy’s capture of Junior Moors from Wests Tigers is smart if one digs deep into last term’s statistics. Of all the National Rugby League’s front-row forwards, Moors was ranked fourth for effective tackles with a 94.1 per cent success rate. And Moors would not have astronomical wage demands, either.
Storm To Win and Cover Spread
Melbourne will be up for the 2013 World Club Challenge and, if the Storm plays to even just 90% of its potential, the National Rugby League side will take a lot of holding.
Forget that the Super League teams have won more World Club Challenge games than their National Rugby League opponents in recent years. Some of the visiting sides have not taken the match all that seriously and suffered the consequences on the scoreboard. Melbourne will not have a poor attitude and it could be the most motivated away team in ages.
If win odds of 4-7 do not float your boat, back Melbourne to cover the handicap – there are 2.5-point and 3.5-point lines out there at close to even money – and/or the Storm to win by 1-12 points at odds of around 13-8. Five of the last six World Club Challenge games have been won by that margin.