MELBOURNE STORM confirmed their status as the best club side in world rugby today when they saw off Leeds Rhinos at The Melbourne Rectangular Stadium.
This 26th World Club Challenge game was played in Australia due to their short pre-season following last year’s World Cup. Melbourne had threatened to pull out of the tournament had it been played on British soil.
The domestic campaign has already begun for Leeds, who defeated Warrington and Hull KR before travelling to the other side of the world for an altogether different test.
The Storm are embarking on a new era without one of the game’s greats, Cooper Cronk, who will play for Sydney Roosters this season after 14 years at Melbourne. But 20-year-old half back Brodie Croft looks set to step into his boots.
Leeds started the game well with a Ryan Hall try giving them points on the board to show for it, but it wasn’t long before the home side moved through the gears. Croft sent Jesse Bromwich over before scoring himself with a bit of help from the Leeds defence whose weight of numbers in the tackle pushed him over the line.
It wouldn’t be a Melbourne Storm game without a try from Fiji World Cup star Suliasi Vunivalu and he rounded off the first-half with a try, before the huge frame of 6ft 7in New Zealand forward Nelson Asofa-Solomona powered across the line at the start of the second.
Croft’s short pass sent Felise Kaufusi in to score and the victory was topped off with a try from Will Chambers who received Vunivalu’s knock-down from Croft’s kick. Dale Finucane scored the seventh just before the final whistle.
“I thought the boys really showed up tonight,” said Croft, who is settling into his daunting new role as Cronk’s replacement.
“I’ve just got to back myself and be confident with my calls and plays. I’ve got some world class players around me, and that really helps me.
“I guess sometimes you can get a bit overawed and overshadowed, especially in the position I play. I’ve got to be dominant and demanding but they’ve been really good at helping me with my confidence.”
Leeds coach Brian McDermott was pleased with his side’s effort but praised the quality of their opposition.
“While we never had a grip of the game in the first half, it was a decent contest. But the errors we made killed us a bit and it gassed us,” he said.
“Their defence was outstanding and that’s why we really struggled. It was suffocating. No matter what we tried, they were smothering. Their defence was awesome.”
Leeds resume their Super League campaign next Sunday, when a trip to Widnes will bring them back down to earth on this side of the globe.
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