THE GREATEST player of all time has given Leeds Rhinos a pat on the back for their World Club Challenge effort.
Australian legend Wally Lewis worked on the game – which Rhinos lost 38-4 to Melbourne Storm – for Australian television.
He told The Yorkshire Evening Post Rhinos played better than the scoreline suggests and were beaten by a special team.
Lewis knows the one-sided result will lead to Betfred Super League being derided in comparison with the NRL, but insisted that is unfair.
“A lot of people are going to write them off in the international stakes,” he said. “They will probably write the international stakes off, saying Australia are much superior, but I thought their [Leeds’] performance was pretty good, very good.
“The speed of the game for the first 25 minutes was particularly impressive and there were people pulling a few faces saying ‘we didn’t think these people would match Melbourne on their home track’.
“When you play Melbourne here they are a different team, they are so much better and that’s why they boast one of the best home records in rugby league history.
“It was an opportunity for Leeds to go on with it in the second half, but that was their biggest problem I think.”
A converted try on the stroke of half-time made it 18-4 and Storm scored again soon after the restart to put the game beyond Leeds.
“The half-time break seemed to settle Melbourne down,” Lewis observed. “[coach] Craig Bellamy was back in the Storm’s ear telling them what to do in the second half and they kicked on from there.
“The scoreline will be very disappointing to look at and there’ll be the claim that Melbourne are a cut above and the English were disappointing, but I thought their performance was very good.”
Lewis said Leeds Rhinos should be disappointed with the outcome, but not the way they played.
“Nobody likes losing,” he added.
“I was the worst loser in the world, I used to sulk and whinge and moan and groan and complain for days after it.
“But to me, the way they managed the speed of the game in the first 20 minutes was the most impressive thing and you could probably argue who was the better team in that period.
“Everyone hates losing, I don’t think I have ever met a footballer who enjoys it.
“They will sit there and go over it a thousand times in their mind and think ‘we failed’ and ‘I failed’, but it is not the end of the line, they will take a lot of credit out of it I think.”
Scrum-half Richie Myler was singled out for particular praise.
“The young kid in the No 7 jersey, the speed he possesses off the mark was particularly impressive,” he reflected.
“There were a couple of times when he was playing in at dummy-half and he took off. I think his vision was very good and he has a very good future in the game.
“That’s what I look for, the guys that read the play. The thing that stood out was his vision. The guys who read the play are the ones who have a big future.”
Lewis also liked the look of Rhinos’ 18-year-old full-back Jack Walker, before he was forced out of the game by a knee injury.
“He is only a kid, you can see that,” he said.
“I am one of those blokes, if I had a position to play in rugby league I would not want to play full-back.
“I think you should be wearing No 13 – it’s the unlucky number.”
Rhinos were in Australia for just a week and Lewis felt it was a brave move to take on Storm in their own backyard.
He said: “Somebody said something about how disappointing it was and I said ‘who beats Melbourne at Melbourne’?
“Not many teams beat them here. If they do it is front-page news. They are a cut above and this is a pretty special team they’ve got.
“I think in two or three years’ time we are going to be talking about Craig Bellamy as the Super Coach.”
Lewis has 33 Test caps and played 31 State of Origin games for Queensland. He famously had a brief spell at Wakefield Trinity in 1983-84 and, after a speaking tour to England last year, said he plans to return to Yorkshire later in 2018.
Betfred, the Super League title sponsors, have Leeds 5/1 to bounce back and win the Grand Final.