By STEVE MASCORD
FOURTEEN months after his sudden death from a heart attack, another of Melbourne Storm recruitment manager Darren Bell’s discoveries rolls off the production line here tomorrow night.
In a World Club Challenge campaign that started with a bus driver who failed to show up to Heathrow, continued with ASADA blood testing at least two players and has been overshadowed by debate over scheduling back home, the Storm’s selection of 21-year-old Tohu Harris is the feel-good story of the clash with Leeds.
Just days before his death, Bell was quoted as saying of former rugby union star: “I think he’ll be the first from this programme to play NRL for us … we’ve got high expectations of Tohu.”
The recruitment trip to Wellington which snared the “quiet, determined” forward was also aimed to sign Super Rugby’s TJ Perenara. Bell, whose death hit the club hard, was responsible for recruiting winger Matt Duffie and prop Jesse Bromwich – who’ve both since become internationals.
“He’s big and he’s quiet but he’s a wonderful kid,” said football manager Frank Ponissi of the 185 cm, 112 kg Harris “His father (Paul) has made the trek over from New Zealand for his debut.
“He’s the youngest of a big family and they’ll be very proud – and so will we. He was probably close to our best, if not our best (against Canberra a fortnight ago) in a very disappointing team performance.
“He played well against Brisbane Easts. He been probably our most consistent player in the two warm-up trials we’ve had. Off the field, you just wouldn’t know he’s there sometimes.
“He just goes about his business and goes home.”
Having beaten Lagi Setu and Junior Moors to a starting berth and Kevin Proctor (knee) out for three or four more weeks, Harris now has the chance to secure a starting berth against St George Illawarra on March 10.
The 13th – and perhaps final – consecutive WCC game to be played in the UK is a 20,400 sellout. “We’ve played each other in three of these now,” said Storm halfback Cooper Cronk.
“It’s an Origin series. We’ve won one, they’ve won one and whoever wins this, wins the series I suppose.”
Leeds are likely to switch centre Kallum Watkins to fullback after the loss of Zac Hardaker with a broken thumb.
Watkins told the Yorkshire Evening Post: “Fullback is the position I played as an amateur and it’s how I got picked up by Leeds.”
Joe Vickery, a triallist from the Gold Coast, makes an unlikely appearance after ankle ligament damage suffered on February 1 ruled him out for six weeks.
Having returned from Wigan, Melbourne’s Brett Finch is likely to fill in at hooker at some stage. He;s party of a six-man bench which will be shaved an hour before kick-off.
“Ability, versatility, experience,” Cronk said when asked about Finch’s attributes. “Things we lacked as a club last year through certain parts (of the season).”
Leeds coach Brian McDermott said Melbourne would present a tougher challenge than Manly, who the Rhinos beat 26-12 a year ago.
“How often they are going to throw things at you is a lot more than Manly,” McDermott said. “Manly played a bit more off the cuff … Melbourne will be a bit more structured and they’re going to test us for longer periods.
“In a roundabout way, I’m saying the test is bigger than it was last year against Manly.”
Teams for the match, which kicks off at Headingley at 7am (NSW time) Saturday, are:
LEEDS (squad): Kallum Watkins, Joel Moon, Ryan Hall, Danny McGuire, Rob Burrow, Kylie Leuluai, Paul McShane, Jamie Peacock, Jamie Jones-Buchanan, Carl Ablett, Kevin Sinfield (c), Steve Ward, Brett Delaney, Ian Kirke, Chris Clarkson, Mitch Achurch, Richard Moore, Jimmy Keinhorst, Joe Vickery (two to be omitted)
MELBOURNE: Billy Slater, Sisi Waqa, Justin O’Neill, Will Chambers, Mahe Fonua; Gareth Widdop, Cooper Cronk; Ryan Hinchcliffe, Tohu Harris, Ryan Hoffman, Jesse Bromwich, Cameron Smith (c), Bryan Norrie. Res: Brett Finch, Jason Ryles, Siosaia Vave, Lagi Setu, Kenny Bromwich, Junior Moors (two to be omitted)..Referee: Ben Thaler.
Filed for: AAP