Patched-up Leeds lose world title

Leeds 20 Manly 28

Leeds relinquished their crown as the best club team in the world reluctantly, beaten by an exceptional Manly side that established its superiority with three tries in seven minutes after half-time.

Brett Stewart and Anthony Watmough were the heroes with two tries apiece, but the Australian champions always looked more convincing as a unit than the brave but patched-up Rhinos. Three late tries made it look respectable for the home side, but the reality was that they were second-best on the night.

"I though it was a pretty comprehensive display," said the Manly coach, Des Hasler. "The scoreboard didn't really indicate the way it was. We were in control for most of the time.

Leeds included their England scrum-half, Rob Burrow, for his first competitive match of the year, after weeks nursing a back injury. Burrow shirked nothing while he was on the field, but he was only destined to last 15 minutes before being flattened by a borderline tackle from Watmough and helped from the field.

Soon to follow him was Jamie Peacock, who came away from a play-the-ball swinging punches at his opposite number, Josh Perry. The fracas involved most of the 26 players and saw both the main protagonists sent to the sin-bin. Leeds were by far the worse affected. The penalty went to Manly and Stewart got over the try-line from dummy half.

On the half hour, Watmough hit a Matt Orford short pass with one of his trademark angled runs and the Sea Eagles had a second try, with Orford adding his second conversion. It could have already been hopeless for Leeds if Stewart had not fumbled after Watmough had made another clean break.

Leeds capitalised on that mistake before half-time, Danny McGuire attacking the Manly line when they failed to deal with a Kevin Sinfield kick. Although he was wrapped up in Orford's tackle, he had the presence of mind to smuggle the ball back for Jamie Jones-Buchanan to touch down and Leeds were still in the game.

Rhinos' fans were still taking their seats for the second half when the situation on the field changed radically. Within two minutes, Adam Cuthbertson's break and Michael Robinson's kick created a fortunate second try for Stewart when Carl Ablett's attempt to dive on the ball merely served it up for the Manly full-back. A tackle from Ryan Hall prevented him from making it a hat-trick immediately after, but Watmough was lurking to score in any case.

Shane Rodney and Heath L'Estrange then made the running for Steve Matai to touch down and the Sea Eagles were soaring out of sight. It was to Leeds' credit that they still managed to finish so strongly, with Ali Lauitiiti's handling skills creating tries for Keith Senior and Ryan Hall.

A second brawl saw Orford put over a penalty, but the deposed world champions still finished on a high with Senior's break and McGuire's try. They cannot be accused of giving up their title tamely.

Leeds: Smith; Donald, Ablett, Senior, R Hall; McGuire, Burrow; Leuluai, Diskin, Peacock, Jones-Buchanan, Kirke, Sinfield. Substitutes used: Lauitiiti, Bailey, Burgess, Watkins.

Manly: B Stewart; Robertson, Lyon, Matai, Williams; Bailey, Orford; King, Ballin, Perry, Watmough, G Hall, G Stewart. Substitutes used: L'Estrange, Cuthbertson, Rose, Rodney.

Referee: J Robinson (Australia).

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