World Club Challenge heads to Melbourne
The Rugby League World Club Challenge is heading to Australia for only the third time in history with the NRL on Tuesday morning confirming the February fixture.
The 2017 Telstra Premiership winners, the Melbourne Storm, will host English Super League champions Leeds Rhinos on February 16 at Melbourne's AAMI Park in what will be a first for the sporting city to host the historic event.
There was uncertainty the annual fixture wouldn't go ahead with the redevelopment of Leeds' home ground Headingly Stadium and a longer than usual season with the Rugby League World Cup this year, but it was confirmed today by both clubs.
The clash marks the fourth time the clubs will meet each other in a World Club Challenge in just over a decade with Craig Bellamy's side winning in 2010 and 2013 and Leeds in 2008.
Melbourne will also be without Roosters-bound halfback Cooper Cronk for the fixture, giving fans an early glimpse of life without their premiership-winning playmaker.
"It will be fantastic to see rugby league take centre stage again at AAMI Park, having hosted record Storm crowds and the Rugby League World Cup in 2017," Storm CEO Dave Donaghy said.
"Our football department is looking forward to the challenge of being back playing for the World Club Challenge trophy and testing themselves again the current Super League Premiers."
Donaghy welcomed the chance to showcase his football club and the NRL on a global stage.
"For us, on the back of such a successful year in 2017, 2018 is such a huge opportunity, Donaghy added.
"It's a new year; a new trophy is up for grabs. We're in it, and we're in it to win it."
Leeds CEO Gary Hetherington expressed his delight playing the event against the NRL's best.
"Leeds Rhinos and Melbourne Storm have been rugby league's two most successful teams over the past 20 years and it's fitting for us to come together for the fourth time in the World Club Challenge," Hetherington said.
"Each of the other three games in Leeds have been terrific contests and coming to Melbourne represents our biggest ever challenge. A victory would be the pinnacle in our club's 128-year history."
NRL Head of Strategy David Silverton said the fixture was a coup for everyone involved in the game.
"It's important for the growth of both the NRL and international game that major events like this go ahead each year, so we're glad to have ensured this important match takes place in what is a shortened pre-season post the Rugby League World Cup," Silverton said.
"To have the match take place on home soil for the first time in four years is an added bonus for Australian rugby league fans too."