LEEDS RHINOS’ adventure Down Under ended in the disappointment of a 38-4 defeat by Melbourne Storm in the World Club Challenge. Here are five talking points.
1: When Rhinos had their first-choice 13 on the field, they matched Storm. But injuries to full-back Jack Walker and loose-forward Stevie Ward left them with only two fit substitutes and, with 12 interchanges allowed, Leeds were out-muscled and faded after the break. Had the likes of Anthony Mullally and Mitch Garbutt been in the 17 – and Ward and Walker stayed on the field – Leeds would probably still have lost, but they might have made more of a game of it.
2: If Rhinos’ defeat makes Betfred Super League a second-rate competition, surely the same applies to the majority of the NRL. Storm lost only four times last year and crushed North Queensland Cowboys 34-6 in the Grand Final. They are a special team and under the difficult circumstances losing to them, even by a hefty 34-point margin, is no disgrace.
3: Brett Delaney’s try-saving tackle on full-pelt Storm winger Josh Addo-Carr was a remarkable effort and typified Leeds’ spirit, even when the result was beyond doubt.
4: Walker’s injury will hand a chance to Ashton Golding. He has become something of a forgotten figure, but he is a talented young full-back and now is the time for him to shine. Garbutt is also hopeful of playing this weekend.
5: Sunday’s game at Widnes Vikings will show what Leeds are made of. The excuses – a tough game at Melbourne, the travel and injuries – are available if they want to use them, but champion teams pass this sort of test. A third successive Super League win would be a statement of intent.