Thurston not taking Rhinos lightly


Johnathan Thurston is not paying too much attention to Leeds Rhinos' poor start to the season as the North Queensland Cowboys talisman targets a World Club Challenge victory that would rank as one of his finest hours.

The Rhinos won a famous treble last season, but Brian McDermott's side have lost their first two games of the 2016 Super League campaign and are bottom of the table.

Kevin Sinfield, Jamie Peacock and Kylie Leuluai ended their long spells with the Rhinos at the end of 2015, while McDermott has a lengthy injury list to contend with ahead of the showdown with the NRL champions at Headingley on Sunday.

But Thurston is braced for a major test from the Rhinos in their own backyard for the main event in the second edition of the World Club Series - staged a fortnight before the NRL season commences.

Australia star Thurston has won the World Cup, as well as two NRL titles, and the Cowboys captain is determined to add a World Club Challenge winner's medal to his list of honours.

When asked where winning on Sunday would rank among his many achievements, Thurston told Omnisport: "Right up there. We're playing Leeds, who have been at the top of Super League for a number of years, so we know we've got a tough challenge coming up. But hopefully we can get the silverware and tick that box off."

The inspirational half-back added: "They're a quality outfit. They're a great club, obviously, a successful club. We're not reading anything into the start of their season.

"We understand that they've got some injuries and things like that, but they've still got Rob Burrow there who's very experienced. They've got some young halves there that are a little bit inexperienced but they're playing on the big stage and that brings enthusiasm. We're looking forward to the challenge."

The three matches in the inaugural World Club Series last year resulted in a clean sweep for the NRL clubs, so the Rhinos, St Helens and Wigan Warriors will be eager to set the record straight 12 months on. 

Brisbane Broncos coach Wayne Bennett saw his side edge out Wigan 14-12 after extra-time last year, but the new England coach does not envisage the Australian sides having things all their own way as he prepares for a rematch with the Warriors at the DW Stadium on Saturday.

He told Omnisport: "I don't expect us to dominate Wigan - they were pretty hard last year when we won in extra-time and I reckon it's going to be like that again for us. I don't know about the other two teams, I haven't been watching them with any great deal of interest."

Bennett added: "I know enough - I'm not naive about what happens over here, I've always taken an interest in it.

"I've come here on seven occasions now after winning Premierships and every game we've ever played here has been hard so I don't expect it to be any different this weekend. And we've lost a few of them too!"

Saints were mauled 39-0 by the South Sydney Rabbitohs in the World Club Challenge last year and captain Jon Wilkin is determined to see his side give a better account of themselves in the opening game against the Sydney Roosters on Friday.

Wilkin told Omnisport: "We're all hopeful that Super League comes out well and on top, but the reality is these are going to be three very closely contested games that could go either way."