Hardaker blow for Rhinos
Leeds Rhinos will have to find a new full-back for Friday’s World Club Challenge against Melbourne Storm after ruling out England international Zak Hardaker with a broken thumb.
The 21-year-old is expected to be sidelined for a month with the injury he sustained in last Friday’s 42-14 Super League win over Salford City Reds.
Rhinos coach Brian McDermott also confirmed at a press conference at Headingley that prop Ryan Bailey will be out after undergoing minor knee surgery, but that second rower Brett Delaney and prop Jamie Peacock will return after missing the Salford game through injury.
Centre Kallum Watkins, who switched to full-back against the City Reds, and Australian recruit Joe Vickery are among the list of possible alternatives for the full-back role.
Vickery, who was born in Exeter but raised in Australia, earned a 12-month contract with the champions after impressing in pre-season trials but damaged ankle ligaments on his debut in the opening game.
“We’ve a few options,” McDermott said. “Kallum Watkins is one of them and Joe Vickery is in the mix after making a remarkable recovery.”
Vickery, who was initially ruled out for six weeks, will be something of an unknown quantity for Melbourne, whose coach Craig Bellamy has been busy doing his homework on the utility back.
“I think he played lower-grade with St George in the NRL,” Bellamy told the press conference. “I wasn’t well versed with him back home but we’ve seen him in a couple of games over here.”
Bellamy, who is close to naming his team from the 21-strong travelling squad, admits his side will be under-prepared compared to three years ago after failing to secure a warm-up fixture.
In 2010, the Storm played London Broncos at the Stoop before going on to beat Leeds at Elland Road and Bellamy was hoping to repeat the exercise.
“It just didn’t happen,” Bellamy said. “It all got a bit too hard to organise so we decided to play a trial at home before we came over. We certainly would have preferred to play a game here, without a doubt.
“It would have been a really good experience for our younger players and given them an insight into the conditions we’ll be playing in on Friday night.”
Bellamy, whose side lost to Canberra in their trial game, admits the World Club Challenge is causing disruption to their preparations for their domestic title defence, but insists they are fully committed for the clash at Headingley, which is a guaranteed 20,400 sell-out.
“Some clubs probably don’t look forward to coming over here but we do,” he said. “We think it’s a great experience for our younger players especially, but it’s also a great life experience.
“The travel certainly knocks your preparation around - it takes a lot of training days out of your calendar - but we know in advance this is happening, so we can prepare and we can do things that we think can lessen the effects of the travel.
“As I say, we enjoy coming over here and we’ll worry about the first round when we get back.”