Leeds Rhinos flew the flag for UK Rugby League and the Betfred Super League competition in Melbourne, Australia late last month. The World Club Challenge is used as both a barometer of the ‘North v South’ argument over league supremacy. As well as being a good warm-up for the NRL Premiership. Altogether, it was a win-win for fans of the game.
As Champions of Super League, the Leeds side made the epic journey to compete in Rugby League’s World Club Challenge. Standing in their way, the formidable Australian Premiers and 2017 Grand Final winners; the Melbourne Storm.
Leeds bid to make History
Leeds chief executive Gareth Hetherington described the Rhinos attempt to win the World Club Challenge (WCC) in Australia as “the biggest game in their history”. Only the mighty Wigan Warriors team of 1994 achieved this monumental feat.
Melbourne Storm meanwhile downplayed the significance of the game initially, as the fixture takes place during the NRL pre-season. However, the lure of being crowned [in many peoples minds] World Champions prompted Melbourne coach Craig Bellamy to field a near full strength team.
Melbourne Storm showed in no uncertain terms why they have been one of the most consistent NRL teams of the last 5 years in their performance. The Storm ran a valiant Leeds Rhinos team ragged, eventually winning the game 38-4 to lift Rugby League’s WCC trophy for third time.
— Melbourne Storm (@storm) February 20, 2018
Leeds Rhinos actually started the brighter of the two sides. Melbourne were understandably sluggish in the opening quarter, not having any first-grade matches in 2018. Any chance Leeds had of winning the game was to catch Melbourne cold, and keep the score board ticking over.
However the Storm dusted off the pre-season cobwebs, as prop Jesse Bromich barrelled his way over the line. Melbourne Storm increased the tempo of play and began to stretch the Leeds defence. Melbourne were soon in the ascendancy, while Leeds were praying for the half-time whistle. The score at 10-4 Leeds needed to hold on for the opportunity to regroup at the break, but cruelly Storm winger Suliasi Vunivalu scythed trough exhausted Leeds defenders to score under the posts.
No Shelter from the Melbourne Storm in World Club Challenge
The second half started as the first finished, with Melbourne applying the pressure. Man mountain Nelson Asofa-Solomona smashed his way over the line to make the early promise of a Leeds upset somewhat seem foolish. The side from the Northern hemisphere needed to show their Super League credentials, yet Rhinos couldn’t handle the Storm’s ability to eat-up territory. And the game soon became about the margin of Melbourne’s win.
Leeds never ceased in their efforts to be fair, but further tries were scored from Felise Kafusi, Will Chambers and finally Josh Finucane. The final hooter sounding, was a relief to the Rhino’s pride, and was a 38-4 fair reward for Melbourne’s dominance.
The Super League v NRL debate continues
After the final whistle in Melbourne, many UK Rugby League fans on social media were quick to bemoan the gulf in quality between the competitions.
Leeds were made to travel after a lukewarm reception form Melbourne Storm as to whether to honour a fixture traditionally held in the UK. Melbourne were not only Grand Final winners, but all teams league leaders in the NRL competition. They have the clout to ‘call the shots’.
Melbourne’s win completes a remarkable year for captain and ‘Golden Boot’ winner Cameron Smith. Smith has won virtually every competition he has played in, whether it be a Premiership for his club Melbourne, State of Origin for Queensland, or the recent 2017 Rugby League World Cup with Australia. It is no wonder that he deserves a testimonial match. Melbourne are at the height of their powers whereas, no one can say the same for the Leeds Rhinos.
Leeds fans will be the first to admit the high watermark for their club in the Super League era, was the treble winning team of 2015. Leeds’ grand final victory last year went against the grain of a regular season, where Castleford Tigers reigned supreme. Super League is still behind the NRL–that gap has closed, and on their best day [at home] UK teams can play as well as Aussie teams.
But, the margin of Melbourne’s victory is not an entirely fair barometer. In other results, the St George Illawarra Dragons only managed a 24-18 scoreline over Hull FC. And while the South Syndey Rabbitohs did push the Wigan Warriors to a comfortable 18-8 victory, all three uK teams will feel on home ground they would show a better account of themselves.
We're back in the UK and our tour of New South Wales is now over.
Thanks to everyone involved in the tour, especially the thousands of ⚫⚪ fans who made the trip!
— Hull FC (@hullfcofficial) February 18, 2018
Next year, the WCC must be played in the Northern hemisphere, to not interrupt champions sides form….whomever they might be.
The Betfred Championship & League 1 Round-up
Barrow Raiders followed up their brilliant display against Toronto last week, by defeating promotion hopefuls Leigh Centurions 24-20. Barrow’s home ground Craven Park, is proving to be a graveyard for anyone who thinks they will be a soft touch. Both Toronto & Leigh have found out the hard way this seasons Championship is showing a blatant disregard for reputation and status.
— Barrow Raiders (@BarrowRaiders) February 22, 2018
London Broncos blew away the highly rated Featherstone Rovers opposition, amassing a 44-10 lead early, before finishing 44-24. London stand-off Jarrod Sammutt scored a hat-trick and kicked seven goals in this encounter. Certainly, promoting the Broncos to serious top four contenders.
Elsewhere, the Toronto Wolfpack ground out a win against Halifax RLFC 20-6. Two late tries from Toronto Winger Adam Higson betrayed the tight affair that saw Halifax winning at half-time 6-4.
In Betfred League 1 competition results, the ‘Game of the weekend’ saw Bradford Bulls secure a dramatic win against York Knights 20-22. Bradford scrum half Joe Keyes scored a last kick of the game penalty from 45m out to steal the League points. The epic encounter was witnessed by a record League One crowd of 4,281 at York’s Bootham Crescent.
league 1 is A terrific advertisement for UK rugby league; outside of the Super League ranks.
UK Rugby League Results:
Betfred Super League:
- Hull KR 23 Catalan Dragons 6
- Warrington Wolves 18 Widnes Vikings 10
- Toulouse Olympique 50 Sheffield Eagles 6
- Halifax RLFC 6 Toronto Wolfpack 20
- London Broncos 44 Featherstone Rovers 24
- Swinton Lions 28 Batley Bulldogs 48
- Barrow Raiders 24 Leigh Centurions 20
- Rochdale Hornets 6 Dewsbury Rams 38
- York Knights 20 Bradford Bulls 22
- Hemel Stags 14 Hunslet RLFC 28
- North Wales Crusaders 24 London Skolars 24
- Whitehaven 0 Oldham RLFC 14
- Keighley Cougars 34 Workington Town 24
- Doncaster 70 Coventry Bears 10
Australia Friendly Matches:
World Club Challenge: Melbourne Storm 34 Leeds Rhinos 4
- St George Illawarra Dragons 24 Hull FC 18
- South Syndey Rabbitohs 18 Wigan Warriors 8
Follow the UK Rugby League season, and the NRL Telstra Premiership on Last Word on Rugby.