Melbourne Storm coach Craig Bellamy is confident that two of the greatest players in the world will be fit to face Leeds Rhinos when the Australian champions meet their English counterparts at Elland Road on Sunday week.
Full-back Billy Slater, the international player of the year in 2008, and centre Greg Inglis, the 2009 Golden Boot winner, are both approaching full fitness in the build up to the Gillette World Club Challenge on Sunday February 28.
Slater will fly into England to link up with the rest of his Storm team-mates tomorrow having missed the recent All Stars game Down Under with a sore ankle but is expected to play against Leeds. Inglis, meanwhile, is almost certain to have a run in Melbourne’s friendly against Harlequins RL at Twickenham Stoop on Sunday, when his coach will be looking to hone preparations for the enticing ‘War of the Rugby League Worlds’.
“Greg Inglis didn’t play in the Indigenous team and Billy Slater dropped out of the All-Stars line up late in the week so we’ll have a look at them,” said Bellamy. “Billy will travel over on Thursday so we’ll have a look at him, but I don’t think he’ll play this weekend.
“We may give Greg 20 or 30 minutes just to see how he is. But again if he’s not 100 per cent by Sunday we’ll give him another week and get him ready for the Leeds game.”
Inglis and Slater were key members of the Australia team that defeated England in the Gillette Four Nations Final at Elland Road last November while Slater played in the Melbourne side beaten 11-4 by Leeds in the 2008 World Club Challenge at Elland Road.
As much as that result hurt, Bellamy is dismissive of suggestions the NRL champions will be looking for revenge in 10 days time.
“We’re a different team, Leeds are a different team and time has moved on,” said Bellamy, who has led Melbourne to the last four NRL Grand Finals. “We’ve come over here and prepared the best we can. Hopefully we can play well on Sunday week.”
Bellamy said he had strong memories of the last meeting between the two sides, when Melbourne came off second best to the Rhinos in stormy conditions in front of an Elland Road crowd of 33,204.
“The conditions were far from ideal, it was very windy and we had a little bit of rain but it’s mainly the wind I remember. I remember Leeds won 11-4 and it’s not that long ago, memories are still fairly fresh.”
Bellamy has been quick to pay tribute to a Leeds side that have secured three successive Engage Super League titles with a relatively unchanged squad in the last few years.
“To do that in any sort of elite competition is a wonderful effort so do that in the Super League over here, they’re obviously doing a lot of things right,” he said.
“They’ve got a lot of good players and the coach is doing a great job and his coaching staff so to do that is quite remarkable in today’s game and how our sport goes.
“Their team hasn’t changed a whole heap. They’ve had a few different Australian’s and New Zealanders come in the team but other than Gareth Ellis they’ve basically kept the same sort of side for three or four years and to do that that’s a bit of an achievement in itself.”
Bellamy is hoping Sunday’s game at The Twickenham Stoop will provide the impetus needed to mount a serious challenge in the Gillette World Club Challenge.
“There’s some of our guys that haven’t played any footie yet this year, so their first game will be against Harlequins on Sunday. We had three play in the All-Stars Indigenous game and we had a few of our young guys play on Saturday night,” he said.
“Leeds are going to be a lot more battle hard than us, they’ll have a lot more games under their belt, but that’s just the way it is. As I said we’re going to go out there and prepare the best we can and play up to our expectations.”
Tickets for the Gillette World Club Challenge at Elland Road on Sunday February 28 (6.30) are now available with prices starting from £20, or £10 concessions.
To purchase tickets from the RFL Ticket Office please visit www.rugbyleaguetickets.co.uk or call 0844 856 11 13.
Tickets are also available from the Leeds Rhinos Ticket Office at Headingley Carnegie Stadium or by calling 0871 423 13 15.