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Page last updated at 17:51 GMT, Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Leeds boss Brian McClennan braced for Melbourne Storm

World Club Challenge: Leeds Rhinos v Melbourne Storm
Venue: Elland Road Date: Sunday, 28 February Kick-off: 1830 GMT Coverage: Updates on BBC Sport website, live on BBC Radio 5 live sports extra, BBC Radio Leeds and Sky Sports 1

Leeds Rhinos coach Brian McClennan
McClennan saw his team lose last year's World Club Challenge

Leeds Rhinos coach Brian McClennan says that Sunday's World Club Challenge against Melbourne Storm will be the toughest test his club have yet faced.

After three straight Grand Final wins, Leeds, who are without injured winger Scott Donald, have lost two of their opening three matches in Super League.

And McClennan admits: "It's certainly the biggest test we've had as a club."

But Melbourne Storm coach Craig Bellamy insists that he is not fooled by Leeds' poor early-season form.

Leeds laboured to an unimpressive 22-10 win against Salford on Friday night, having lost their previous two matches at home to Castleford, then at Wakefield.

But Bellamy said: "It's a big occasion on Sunday. I'm sure they'll lift from what they've done in the first month.


"I've watched all their games. I've kept an eye on what they're doing."

Leeds will also go into Sunday's big game at Elland Road without injured second-row forward Carl Ablett.

Along with Donald, he is the main absentee from the team that won a third successive Grand Final against St Helens last October to earn their place against the Aussies.

Leeds also have an injury doubt over back Brett Delaney, who injured his knee on his home debut against Castleford.

If Australian Delaney has recovered then McClennan is likely to restore him to centre and switch Kallum Watkins to the wing.

But Bellamy points out that, apart from home advantage, Leeds also have a strong squad.

"They probably haven't played as well as they would have liked," added Bellamy.

2009 - Leeds Rhinos 20-28 Manly Sea Eagles
2008 - Leeds Rhinos 11-4 Melbourne Storm
2007 - St Helens 18-14 Brisbane Broncos
2006 - Bradford Bulls 30-10 West Tigers
2005 - Leeds Rhinos 39-32 Canterbury Bulldogs

"But you only have to go back to the Grand Final last year to realise how many good players they've got in that team."

Melbourne have travelled over without forwards Brett White and Sika Manu, new signing Chase Stanley and scrum-half Cooper Cronk.

And Bellamy is considering switching captain Cameron Smith from hooker to fill the half-back vacancy.

Smith sat out Sunday's warm-up game against Harlequins, along with full-back Billy Slater and prop Adam Blair, after delaying his departure from Australia.

But all three will go straight into the side for the Elland Road showdown.

"I'm pretty sure it's going to be a physical and tight game out there," Storm full-back Billy Slater told BBC Radio Leeds. "So we've just got to make sure we turn up with the right attitude and start well.

"We've got another opportunity to win a World Club Challenge - we didn't take our opportunity last time. Hopefully we can turn it around this time.

"They've got a very similar side to the one two years ago and I think their form going into this game is irrelevant."

Halifax-born utility back Gareth Widdop, who has yet to make his senior debut, is set for a substitute role after catching the eye in Sunday's 34-10 win.

But Bellamy has still to finalise the make-up of his bench and admits that he faces a selection dilemma over Cronk's replacement.

His most likely option is to move Smith from his customary hooking role to partner stand-off Brett Finch.

"The halves is the biggest area with Cooper not there," said Bellamy. "There's a few things we can do.

"Finchy has played a lot of half-back and young Luke Kelly did a really good job against Harlequins but it's a big game on Sunday so that would be a big ask.

"Cameron Smith can play a little bit of half-back. We'll have a look at the tape and go from there."

Leeds ensured the World Club Challenge trophy stayed in England for a fifth successive season when they beat Melbourne Storm 11-4 two years ago, a side from which the visitors have just five survivors.

But the title was reclaimed by the Aussies 12 months ago when Manly beat Leeds 28-20 at Elland Road.

"Last year, we won four games leading into the World Club Challenge," added McClennan. "But it didn't mean we performed that well.

"We've a lot of experience in big games and we'll call on that. We'll give a good account of ourselves.

"We've had a couple of difficult games in the conditions but, at Elland Road, the pitch is always prepared well and there will be good conditions to play in for both teams."

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