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Storm hit London ahead of WCC clash

17/02/2010 03:32:01 PM Comments (0)

Backrower Ryan Hoffman holds the key to Melbourne's World Club Challenge ambitions, former Storm assistant coach Michael Maguire has warned.

Maguire, who after five years at the Storm left to become head coach at Wigan at the end of 2009, has offered Super League rivals the Leeds Rhinos some pointers ahead of the February 28 showdown at Elland Road.

"Ryan's an enormous figure in the Melbourne team," Maguire said.

"He has great presence about him and offers not just a lot in terms of his playing ability but also his leadership and experience both as a State of Origin and international player.

"He is still relatively young, but he brings a lot to the Storm in both attack and defence and he is a great team man. Ryan's the sort of bloke that never lets you down."

Hoffman, 26, touched down in London with his Storm team-mates on Tuesday ahead of a warm-up game against Harlequins at Twickenham's The Stoop stadium on Sunday.

Hoffman threw down a challenge to the youngsters in the Storm squad to press their claims for a first grade spot ahead of their opening NRL clash with Cronulla on March 13.

Among them is last season's under-20s captain Luke Kelly, who will play against Harlequins if veteran five-eighth Brett Finch isn't ready after playing longer than expected in last Saturday's All Stars game.

"All these young kids we've got coming through, it's their chance to hopefully push for the World Club Challenge game, but also the start of the NRL season," Hoffman said.

The wide-running second rower also shrugged off the well-documented issues facing Australian sides in the WCC - playing out of season, long-haul travel and English conditions.

"It's quite easy because it's quite an exciting time," he said.

"Quite a few of these guys haven't come over to England to play a game and haven't experienced English weather and English rugby league and English crowds and that's the enjoyment of playing over here.

"All those other things are just excuses."

English clubs have won 11 of the 16 games since the WCC became a regular fixture in 1987.

This year's encounter against the three-time defending Super League champions in Leeds is a repeat of the 2008 WCC, which the Rhinos won 11-4 in blustery conditions.

Manly beat Leeds 28-20 last year.

Prop Jeff Lima is recovering from a hamstring strain but is expected to have a run against Harlequins, while centre Greg Inglis remains in doubt for the London fixture with a hip injury.

Coach Craig Bellamy said he wouldn't take any "unnecessary risks" with players.

"All those guys who haven't had a game this year we'd really like to give a game against Harlequins but we're not going to take any chances," Bellamy said.

"The Leeds game is the important game, but also we've got a competition that starts 10 days after that."

Blair and fellow All Stars Cameron Smith and Billy Slater, who missed last weekend's match with an ankle problem, will fly to London on Thursday and are unavailable this weekend.

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