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View from Down Under: Melbourne Storm the short-money favorite to down Leeds

The Melbourne Storm may be more than three months into the offseason, but the NRL premiers are heavy favorites to beat the Leeds Rhinos in Friday night’s World Club Challenge.

The Storm will not be holding back at AAMI Stadium, with veterans Billy Slater and Cameron Smith among 11 of its 13 title-winning players expected to take on the English Super League champions.

Leeds heads to Australia after opening the 2018 season with two straight wins under its belt, but knowing it is the underdog against the Storm.

Rhinos captain Kallum Watkins told reporters this week his side needs to improve quickly to have any chance of beating Melbourne and be considered the world’s best team.

“We’ll have to lift our performances to win,” the England centre said. “In the first two games we got wins, which gives us great confidence.

“It’s an opportunity to become world champions, so we’ve got to make the most of it.”

The Storm and the Rhinos have met on three occasions. After Leeds won the opening encounter 11-4 in 2008, Melbourne dominated the matches in 2010 and 2013.

While talismanic halfback Cooper Cronk has left Melbourne and will be replaced by 20-year-old Brodie Croft, the Storm will be boosted by the presence of prolific winger Suliasi Vunivalu.

The NRL leading try scorer in 2017, Vunivalu went on to star for Fiji in last year’s Rugby League World Cup.

Melbourne is Sportsbet’s $1.05 (-2000) favorite to win the World Club Challenge, with a massive $10 (+900) for Leeds.

The Storm are on $11 (+1000) to beat the Rhinos by only 1 to 5 points, $6 (+500) for a 16- to 20-point margin and $11 (+1000) to win by 31 to 35.

After already qualifying for the Trans-Tasman T20 Trophy final with three straight wins, Australia holds England’s fate in its hands when it travels to New Zealand on Friday.

New Zealand beat England by 12 runs this week and can book its spot in the final by beating Australia at Eden Park.

Australia beat the Black Caps by seven wickets in the opening match of the series in Sydney and is paying $1.62 (-161) to do it again this week.

Ahead of Friday’s match, Australia is the $1.62 (-161) favorite to win the trophy, with $2.70 (+170) for New Zealand and $10 (+900) for England.

While the Trans-Tasman series is decided, most of the Australian test squad is resting up ahead of next month’s tour of South Africa.

Early odds on the South African series have the Proteas as $1.80 (-125) favorites to claim the first test, with Australia on $3.25 (+225).

In the A-League, Newcastle is tipped to find its second place on the table in a precious potion after this week’s 20th round.

The Jets are on $2.50 (+150) to beat Western Sydney on Friday, with $2.40 (+140) for a draw.

A loss would see Sydney FC lead the Jets by 12 points, with Melbourne City just four points behind.