Leeds Rhinos coach Brian McDermott hailed two-try winger Ryan Hall but admitted it was his side’s defence that earned the spoils in the Heinz Big Soup World Club Challenge.
The Super League champions gained a thrilling 26-12 victory over Manly Sea Eagles at Headingley to lift the title for the third time in eight years and end a run of three straight victories by Australian clubs.
McDermott, who became the first man to win a World Club Challenge as both a player and coach, admitted he thought his side were heading for defeat when Manly, trailing 16-6 at the break, piled on the pressure in the second half.
“I feel very proud and very humble,” said McDermott, who was in the Bradford side that beat Newcastle Knights in 2002. “I’ll get a bit excited when nobody is watching.
“It’s still sinking in to be honest. We did it the tough way and I don’t think we’d want it any other way. It was an old-fashioned game of rugby league.
“We looked scruffy at times but we were brave and courageous. There was a period in the second half when we were gone.
“(Ryan) Bailey got a crack on his head, Jonesy (Jamie Jones-Buchanan) did his knee and neither could go back so we had two players left for the whole of the second half.
“I wouldn’t say we were at our most vintage offensively, but you deserve to win World Club Challenges when you defend like that. It came down to how much the fellas were prepared to bend their backs.”
England international Hall provided the individual highlight with a 90-metre interception try and added a second just before half-time to give the Rhinos a winning platform.
“I’m pleased for Ryan,” said McDermott. “He’s wants to learn and he’s very hungry to keep on improving.
“He’s a clever fella, very astute. Interceptions don’t just happen, it’s something he works on in practice.”
Centre Kallum Watkins scored Leeds’ other first-half try while Ben Jones-Bishop and Carl Ablett added others in the last five minutes as the Rhinos gained a flattering margin of victory.
Full-back Brett Stewart and scrum-half Daly Cherry-Evans scored the tries for the Sea Eagles, who have now lost two of their three World Club Challenges.
Although Manly opted against playing a warm-up match in England, coach Geoff Toovey insisted he had no excuses for the defeat.
“We prepared very well for this game,” he said. “We had several months of pre-season training and played a trial match so there are no excuses.
“All teams that come over want to hold that cup. It’s an important way to start the season.
“We didn’t come up to our usual mark. I’m very disappointed with our execution but all credit to Leeds, they did all those one percenters better than we did.
“It was a tough match that will prepare us well for the start of the NRL season but we’re a bit disappointed with the way we played.
“The positive was that I thought our forwards played particularly well and, if anything, our pack dominated theirs for the majority of the match.”