12th February 2018, 15:04 | Leeds
The Betfred Super League champions have flown 12,000 miles into an Australia summer to take on Melbourne Storm in Friday’s 2018 World Club Challenge at AAMI Park.
Huddersfield Giants forward Ryan Hinchcliffe, who was a World Club Challenge winner on English soil with Melbourne, believes Leeds will have the advantage of being battle hardened from their opening two league games but expects them to come away from Australia empty handed.
“It’s a tough gig for Leeds to go out there in those conditions and on a dry track,” said Hinchcliffe, who made 177 appearances for the Storm from 2009-2015.
“There haven’t been many dry tracks over here in the last couple of months.
“It will be a great experience for those players to play in that game. AAMI Park is an unbelievable stadium to play in.
“Having played a couple of games definitely helps you without a doubt.
“Leeds play a pretty expansive style of game, they like to throw the ball around so the drier conditions might help them.
“But I think the Melbourne Storm will win it. They were probably 20 per cent better than any other team in the NRL last year to be honest. They’re a formidable outfit and they’ll be very keen to win this game.”
The Rhinos, who flew out in three groups after their win over Hull KR last Thursday, had their first full day of training in Melbourne on Monday with a morning weights session, followed by a field session in the afternoon.
Sandwiched in between, Watkins spoke of his team’s ambitions at the official launch alongside Melbourne captain Cameron Smith, who confirmed his intention to play in Friday’s game.
“It’s massive opportunity for us,” Watkins said. “Obviously it’s a short trip but we’ve got to make the most of it.
“The roles are switched with us travelling over this time. There’s challenges, certain things that go against us but we can’t make that an excuse.
“There’s an opportunity to be the best club in the world. We’re really excited for that opportunity.”
Watkins is delighted that Smith will play in the match, alongside full-back Billy Slater and centre Will Chambers, who were all in the Kangaroos team that beat England 6-0 in the World Cup final in December.
“We want them all to play,” Watkins said. “We want to battle with the best players. We’re not a bad bunch ourselves.”