Leeds showed all their champions’ qualities to restore English pride and secure a record-equalling third victory in tonight’s gripping Heinz Big Soup World Club Challenge at Headingley.
The Rhinos outscored Manly Sea Eagles by five tries to two to clinch their third world crown in eight years and end a run of three consecutive wins by Australian sides.
But it was a close-fought affair, with the Super League champions scoring twice in the last five minutes through Ben Jones-Bishop and Carl Ablett to gain a flattering victory margin.
England winger Ryan Hall scored two first-half tries, one of them a 90-metre solo effort, to give his side a 16-6 interval lead.
Leeds’ victory then owed everything to a magnificent defence in which front-rowers Jamie Peacock and Kylie Leuluai were outstanding.
The Sea Eagles, who beat Leeds in the 2009 final at Elland Road, dominated much of the second half but could only crack the superbly-marshalled Rhinos defence once.
The visitors had earlier made a nervous start, with co-captain Jason King knocking the ball on from the kick-off and Daly Cherry-Evans failing to find touch with the game’s first penalty.
Leeds thrilled the 21,000 crowd with their adventurous running out of defence, particularly through Hall and full-back Brent Webb, but the match will best be remembered for a series of crunching tackles, most notably one by Anthony Watmough on Brett Delaney that was reminiscent of the hit that knocked out Rob Burrow in 2009.
Referee Ashley Klein struggled at times to keep control and awarded 22 penalties to reflect the brutal nature of the game.
The Rhinos were the livelier outfit from the start but it took them 18 minutes to open the scoring and it needed a stroke of good fortune.
Neat build-up by Burrow and Kevin Sinfield gave Webb space to make a run and his short pass sent the onrushing Kallum Watkins crashing through for a try, although it looked suspiciously forward.
However, there was no doubt about Leeds’ second try, Hall snaffling a pass by Manly full-back Brett Stewart meant for winger David Williams and showing a clean pair of heels to all pursuers on a 90-metre dash to the line.
Sinfield’s second conversion made it 12-0 but Stewart made amends for his error when he took an inside pass from stand-off Kieran Foran to go over for the Sea Eagles’ first try.
Jamie Lyon’s goal halved the deficit but Leeds struck again four minutes before half-time when Hall outjumped Williams to collect Sinfield’s pinpoint crossfield kick to claim his second try.
Leeds lost England second-rower Jamie Jones-Buchanan with a knee injury four minutes into the second half and they were forced into some desperate defence as Manly began to find their rhythm.
Foran came into his own with his probing and prompting while second-rower Tony Williams began to show the powerful running and handling that caused England problems in the Four Nations Series.
Scrum-half Cherry-Evans dummied his way over for the visitors’ second try after 50 minutes and Lyon’s second goal cut the gap to just four points.
A string of penalties enabled the Australians to keep the pressure on and they thought they had drawn level after 58 minutes when centre Steve Matai collected Foran’s to cross the line but video referee Ian Smith disallowed the try for a push by Glenn Stewart on Watkins.
As the tension mounted, tempers began to flare and Manly began to look the more likely winners.
However, Leeds held their nerve and, after hooker Paul McShane was thrown back from the line by Glenn Stewart, Burrow worked the ball out wide and Watkins got Jones-Bishop over for the clincher.
Leeds then piled on the misery for their visitors when Sinfield’s kick caused confusion in their defence and Ablett pounced for a fifth try, with Sinfield booting his third goal.