three years ago this week Leeds Rhinos clipped the Eagles’ wings to be crowned champions of the world.
Rhinos have won a record-equalling three World Club Challenges over the past decade, but the 2012 victory over Manly Sea Eagles, on February 17, was special for several reasons.
Unlike Leeds’ other triumphs against the Australian Grand Final winners, the tie was played at Headingley Carnegie, in front of a passionate full house of 21,062 – and it avenged defeat to the same opposition three years earlier.
The Manly showdown was Leeds’ third game of the season, following a 34-16 Headingley victory over Hull – when Kallum Watkins shone with a hat-trick of tries – and a 20-6 reverse at Wigan Warriors.
Rhinos had a setback before the game when Lee Smith was ruled out due to a rib injury, but their side included 14 of the players who had stunned St Helens in the previous October’s Grand Final.
Players missing from that game were Ali Lauitiiti and Danny Buderus – who had both left the club – plus Ian Kirke. In came Paul McShane, Watkins and new signing Darrell Griffin.
Rhinos had an immediate opportunity to attack, when Jason King dropped the kick-off, but that came to nothing and Manly held out under some strong pressure until cracking for the first time at the end of the opening quarter.
Rob Burrow and Kevin Sinfield worked the ball to Brent Webb and he provided the final pass for Watkins to go over for the first try, which Sinfield converted.
With Anthony Williams leading from the front, Manly stormed back into the game and pounded Leeds’ line, but the defence held and then Ryan Hall made what was to be a key intervention.
The winger – enhancing his reputation as the world’s best – snatched Brett Stewart’s pass, which would have created a try had a team-mate taken it and galloped almost the length of the field to give Sinfield a straight-forward shot at goal, making it 12-0 on 28 minutes.
Stewart made amends with a quality finish five minutes later and ex-St Helens centre and Man of Steel Jamie Lyon tagged on the two to halve Rhinos’ lead. But crucially, Leeds struck again just three minutes before the break, when Hall scored a totally contrasting try to his first touchdown. There was no running involved this time, the England winger out-jumping his opposite number to gather and go over from Sinfield’s pin-point cross kick.
There was no goal, but a 16-6 lead left Leeds in the driving seat at half-time.
Rhinos were weakened early in the second half when Jamie Jones-Buchanan limped off and the tide seemed to be turning on 51 minutes as Manly notched their second try, Daly Cherry-Evans dummying over and Lyons adding the extras to make it 16-12.
Rhinos were under the cosh and it seemed only a matter of time before Manly broke the home side’s resistance.
Leeds held out for five sets near their own line, but Steve Matai seemed to have levelled the scores when he touched down from Kieran Foran’s kick. Referee Ashley Klein handed the decision on and the video referee ruled no try, spotting a push on Watkins by Glenn Stewart.
That proved to be the game-breaking moment. Jamie Peacock – aiming for a record fourth World Club Challenge winner’s medal – rallied Rhinos and they clawed their way back on to the front foot. Only a superb tackle by Glenn Stewart denied McShane, but clever work by Burrow carved out an opening and Watkins’ pass was finished by Ben Jones-Bishop to give Leeds a two-score advantage with five minutes left.
Sinfield hit a post with his conversion attempt, but was given another oportunity moments later, as Manly – who were still in their pre-season – ran out of petrol. The re-start failed to go 10 metres, putting Leeds straight back on the attack, Sinfield’s kick on the last tackle took a wicked bounce and Carl Ablett was on hand to touch down, his captain landing a third goal to make the final score 26-12.
Afterwards, coach Brian McDermott hailed his pack for laying a winning platform. He said: “The forwards did a fantastic job defensively and I don’t think we had a poor performer out there. Technically it was a bit scrappy, but you’ve got to credit our boys for continually keeping them out.”
World Club Challenge
at Headingley Carnegie
Leeds Rhinos 26 Manly Sea Eagles 12
Rhinos tries: Hall 2, Watkins, Jones-Bishop, Ablett.
Goal: Sinfield 3
Sea Eagles tries: B Stewart, Cherry-Evans
Goals: Lyon 2
Leeds Rhinos: Webb, Jones-Bishop, Watkins, Hardaker, Hall, Sinfield, McGuire, Leuluai, Burrow, Peacock, Jones-Buchanan, Delaney, Ablett. Subs McShane, Bailey, Clarkson, Griffins.
Manly Sea Eagles: B Stewart, D Williams, Lyon, Matai, Oldfield, Foran, Cherry-Evans, King, Ballin, Kite, Watmough, T Williams, G Stewart. Subs Buhrer, Mauro, Lussick, Rose.
Referee: Ashley Klein. Attendance: 21,062.