The Leeds Rhinos and Melbourne Storm will battle in the World Club Challenge for the third time in the past six years. The teams split the previous two meetings in the annual event, with Leeds winning in 2008 and Melbourne taking home the title in 2010.
Although the Storm's victory was later stripped due to a salary-cap issue, Friday's encounter should still be viewed as a grudge match between two talented sides. Leeds is the defending Super League champion, and Melbourne won the NRL.
The match marks the beginning of an official ban on shoulder charges, which will force both sides to adapt on the fly in a big match. The BBC passed along comments from the Rugby Football League laws committee secretary, Blake Solly, who said it's a safety-based decision.
"We understand that the shoulder charge is popular with many people in rugby league but we also have a duty to manage the welfare and safety of players involved in the game at all levels," said RFL laws committee secretary Blake Solly.
One edge Leeds should have is match fitness. The Rhinos have already begun the 2013 campaign, going 2-0-1 in their first three matches, including a destruction of the Salford City Reds a week ago. So they have to feel good about their form.
On the flip side, the Storm have yet to begin their season. They will be forced to enter the high-profile match cold in terms of true match competition, and that should give the edge to Leeds, at least in the early going.
The other thing working to the Rhinos' advantage is home field. The match will take place at Headingley Carnegie Stadium in Leeds for the second-consecutive year. The team defended its turf with a 26-12 win against the Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles in 2012.
The Rhinos will lean heavily on captain Kevin Sinfield and Joel Moon, who are both off to strong starts this season. Sinfield has been with the team since 1997, and his legend grows with each passing year.
Head coach Brian McDermott understands it's going to take tremendous defensive execution to slow down the dangerous Storm, according to Sky Sports.
"We'll have to have some added stuff, especially defensively to shut them out. The occasion is going to get the best out of everyone.
"We're ready. We know how much effort and energy is going to be involved. It will take an almighty defensive effort to shut Melbourne out."
McDermott's counterpart Craig Bellamy has an extremely deep roster and, since his squad hasn't been through any battles yet in 2013, he should have a fresh group to utilize.
Stalwart Cameron Smith will lead the charge for Melbourne. He'll be hoping to outduel Sinfield in a battle of stars but should receive no shortage of support from teammates like Gareth Widdop and Cooper Cronk.
Ultimately, the match is likely to get decided by how much control Leeds is able to gain while Melbourne is finding its form. Once the Storm find their legs and knock off the rust, their depth should be enough to take over the game.
Melbourne Storm 26, Leeds Rhinos 18
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