LEEDS Rhinos chief executive Gary Hetherington and RFL boss Nigel Wood last night claimed a thrilling World Club Challenge was further proof it is time to enlarge the concept.
The West Yorkshire club fell short 18-14 against Melbourne Storm at Headingley Carnegie, but it was another epic encounter between two of the sports’ heavyweights.
Hetherington, who hopes to see the best six clubs from Super League and the NRL eventually battle it out for the honour, said: “It was a magnificent contest and a terrific performance from Leeds Rhinos against what the Australians reckon to be the best team ever to come out of Australia.
“Credit to Melbourne. They are an outstanding rugby league team, but our players and our team matched them for long periods of the game.
“On another day it might have gone our way, but it was a great event and a great spectacle.
“It was a terrific atmosphere and a memorable night once again at Headingley Carnegie.”
A capacity crowd of 20,400 witnessed the showdown with holders Leeds eventually missing out due to a couple of moments of brilliance from Melbourne and also a glaring mistake by Rob Burrow.
But Wood, who supports Hetherington’s bid for expansion, said: “It was another terrific clash which was just what you expected from two champion clubs.
“It was a 50/50 ball game which could have gone either way and that is just what we all want to see.
“Leeds can feel very proud of how they represented the European competition and it gives the concept an even greater platform to build on.
“We’re in constant dialogue trying to find a way to make this work.
“We are big believers in international club rugby as a concept that needs to be developed and Leeds Rhinos and Melbourne Storm have just shown why.”
Leeds captain Kevin Sinfield missed out on making the Headingley club the first to win four World Club titles.
But he said: “The guys emptied their tank and gave everything so I’m really proud.
“I’m really pleased to play alongside every one of them but (last night) we just weren’t good enough and that final 20 minutes we just couldn’t open them up.
“The two tries after half-time hurt us quite a bit and meant we were chasing the game.
“I think the score should have settled us down a bit but it didn’t, we were a little bit erratic.
“We had plenty of chances down there but just couldn’t prise them open so we’re really disappointed.
“They are a great team; we have come up against some really good sides throughout Super League and they are right up there – one of the best – but we were right in it with a shout. Unfortunately, the best team won (last night).”
Australia scrum-half Cooper Cronk added: “It was worth all the cold. The Australian teams hold this game in very high regard and so do the English players. To play here in a different climate and such a great atmosphere was a pleasure.”
Match report: Page 7.