Melbourne held off a tremendous display by Leeds to win 18-14 and become the first Australian team to claim a third victory in the annual Probiz World Club Challenge.The Rhinos were never in front but staged two thrilling fightbacks to remain in contention throughout a compelling contest at Headingley before falling just short in their attempt to secure what would have been a record fourth victory.
Second rower Tohu Harris, one of three Melbourne debutants, full-back Billy Slater and prop Jesse Bromwich scored the tries that enabled the Australian champions to complete their second win over the Rhinos in four years.
Cameron Smith nailed an easy kick to open the scoring on 12 minutes and it was no real surprise when Melbourne extended their lead seven minutes later, former Wigan second rower Ryan Hoffman taking Cooper Cronk’s short pass to go between Kevin Sinfield and Carl Ablett and sending the supporting Slater over for the first try. Smith’s second goal made it 8-0.
Clearly up for the challenge, Leeds’ passions were aroused by a late tackle by Melbourne prop Jason Ryles on Sinfield and they eventually cracked the visitors defence on 28 minutes when Rob Burrow, Sinfield and Danny McGuire all combined to give Hall a chance at the corner to which he produced a typical clinical finish.
Sinfield’s touchline conversion made it 8-6 and he drew his side level on the stroke of half-time with a penalty but the Rhinos would have held a useful lead but for a couple of blunders.
But Storm scored two tries within seven minutes of the resumption when Bromwich swatted aside the attempted tackles of Paul McShane and Kallum Watkins to charge over and winger Sisi Waqa then collected McGuire’s kick 10 metres from his own line and Harris finished off the counter-attack moments later by crossing at the corner.
At 18-8, there looked to be no way back for the Super League champions but Hall had different ideas.
He collected Sinfield’s pinpoint kick to the corner, found his partner Joel Moon and took a return pass to get back rower Jamie Jones-Buchanan over for the Rhinos’ second try. Sinfield’s third goal cut the deficit to just four points and, with Jamie Peacock once more leading the charge, Leeds pressed for the winning try.
However, Melbourne’s superb defence stood firm and they even had late tries by winger Mahe Fonua and England stand-off Gareth Widdop disallowed as they clung on for a deserved victory.