Clinical Storm seize world title as Burrow blows Leeds' chance
Leeds 14 Melbourne Storm 18
Dave Hadfield was a schoolboy convert to rugby league, the game which, one way or another, has dominated his life ever since. After working for newspapers in Shropshire and Blackpool (where he covered the fortunes of Blackpool Borough) he travelled the world, working mainly in Hong Kong and Sydney. He became The Independent's rugby league man in 1990 and has written five books on the game and broadcast extensively for Sky and the BBC. Dave played his last game at the age of 53 and would have set up a try if anyone could have been bothered supporting his break. When not writing about the sport, he now limits himself to a bit of tick and pass with his local club, the Bolton Mets. Family includes supporters - of varying degrees of dedication - of Salford, Wigan, Sheffield Eagles and St George Illawarra.
Friday 22 February 2013
Leeds were left to rue their squandered opportunities as they lost their crown as the best club side in the world.
The Rhinos were bidding for a record fourth World Club Challenge and they could have had it if they had taken the chances produced by some expansive play in a free-flowing spectacle.
Rob Burrow, so often a match-winner for the Rhinos, was the prime offender as he butchered a certain try. By comparison, the star-studded Storm were clinical and that is why they will go home as world champions.
Leeds opted for two relatively inexperienced Australians in their line-up – Joe Vickery on the right wing and Mitch Achurch on the bench – whilst the Storm hinted at their strength in depth by being able to omit the former Wigan stand-off, Brett Finch, altogether.
The North of England generally produces something a bit special weather-wise to welcome the Aussies for this fixture and a freezing night at Headingley was no exception.
Players struggled to keep their footing early on, but a typical break from Billy Slater produced the first pressure of the game and three sets for Leeds to defend. The Rhinos looked equally menacing when Kevin Sinfield's pass released Joel Moon, but the first points came via Cameron Smith's boot, after Stevie Ward was caught offside.
Slater's tackle in the corner denied Moon the first try of a thoroughly open game. Just before the mid-point in the first half, however, it was Melbourne who crossed the whitewash; Cooper Cronk's reverse pass, Ryan Hoffman's run, Slater in support and Leeds were opened up.
There were angry scenes after Jason Ryles took out Sinfield with a late tackle. The punishment was limited to a penalty, but from that possession Leeds scored.
Danny McGuire's superb pass sent in Ryan Hall, who had already been over the try-line without being able to touch down. The Rhinos should have been ahead when Kallum Watkins made a clean break from full-back, but Burrow, perfectly positioned in support, unaccountably put his pass down.
There was another golden chance before half-time, when Ward's run split the defence but his pass would not go to hand for McGuire. Instead, an offside penalty gave Sinfield the chance to level the scores, which he accepted in typically nerveless fashion.
That left an engrossing contest perfectly balanced, with first points in the second half obviously at a premium. They went to the Storm, after Achurch conceded a penalty for a high tackle on Ryles.
Melbourne seized their chance, thanks to Jesse Bromwich's charge through three attempted tackles, and Smith added his third goal.
Four minutes later a dazzling series of passes culminated in Sisa Waqa getting the ball away to Tohu Harris for a ten-point lead. After Leeds' missed chances in the first half, it had been a concise lesson in finishing.
Brilliant interplay under Sinfield's kick brought Leeds back into it, Hall jumping highest to catch and combining with Moon to put Jamie Jones-Buchanan over. It was a try that emphasised the high skill factor of the match and it inspired the Rhinos to mount another wave of attacks.
Mahe Fonua was denied what would have been a clinching Storm try for a forward pass after a clever kick from Cronk. That was an interlude amid Leeds' desperate siege on the line, but, try as they might, the Rhinos could not get their noses in front and were forced to surrender their title to the resolute Melbourne side.
Leeds: Watkins; Vickery, Ablett, Moon, Hall; Sinfield, McGuire; Leuluai, Burrow, Peacock, Delaney, Jones-Buchanan, Ward.Substitutes used: Clarkson, Kirke, McShane, Achurch.
Melbourne Storm: Slater; Waqa, Chambers, O'Neill, Fonua; Widdop, Cronk; Bromwich, Smith, Norrie, Harris, Hoffman, Hinchcliffe.Substitutes used: Ryles. Setu, Vave, Moors.
Referee: B.Thaler (England)
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