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World Club Challenge: Melbourne Storm hold off Leeds Rhinos
Melbourne Storm regained the World Club Challenge title after an 18-14 victory over holders Leeds Rhinos at Headingley.
Three years after they beat Leeds 18-10 in the annual showpiece, the Storm again had just about too much attacking class and defensive acumen for the Rhinos.
It was a display full of grit and defiance from the Rhinos, who managed to keep the game alive as a contest right to the final minute despite Storm looking set to blow them away on more than one occasion.
The visitors dominated the opening exchanges with Billy Slater sent clear by Cooper Kronk only for Callum Watkins to come up with a crucial tackle.
After forcing back-to-back drop-outs Cameron Smith edged Melbourne ahead with a short-range penalty, but Joel Moon came close for the Rhinos on a rare Leeds attack, only for Slater to halt him in the corner.
Melbourne finally got the breakthrough after 20 minutes as a short ball from Kronk put Ryan Hoffman through a gap and Slater was on the former Wigan forward's shoulder to take the pass and sprint in under the posts, with Smith converting.
Back-to-back penalties finally gave Leeds a foothold in the Melbourne half and they took advantage as Kevin Sinfield and Danny McGuire combined before Ryan Hall finished superbly one-handed in the corner. Sinfield added the extras from the touchline.
Rob Burrow dropped an almost certain try-scoring pass from Watkins just before the break, but Sinfield levelled the scores on the hooter for an offside.
Melbourne raced clear after the re-start as Jesse Bromwich took advantage of rare poor defence from Leeds, powering through four tackles to score under the posts.
Three minutes later Melbourne scored a very dfferent try, a stunning handling move that involved seven players finished by Tohu Harris in the corner on his debut.
Leeds looked in trouble but bravely fought back as Sinfield's kick was flicked back by Hall and Jamie Jones-Buchanan got over to score.
There was still almost half an hour remaining but Sinfield's conversion - remarkably his 40th successive successful kick at goal - was the last score of the night.
Leeds had pressure and half-chances but it was Melbourne who came closest to scoring more points, with three passes in the Leeds 20 being ruled forward. Those decisions kept the game alive but did not prevent Melbourne emerging as worthy winners.
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