Challenge for Leeds now is to learn the lessons of Melbourne

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EVERYONE knew it was akin to Mission Impossible but, still, that did not mask Leeds Rhinos’ pain after a sobering 38-4 World Club Challenge loss to Melbourne Storm in Australia.

That was the same scoreline by which they fell to North Queensland Cowboys two years ago but that was at Headingley and this was suffered more than 10,000 miles away so.

Victorious Melbourne storm celebrate and lift the trophy. Picture: Brendon Ratnayake/SWpix.com

Victorious Melbourne storm celebrate and lift the trophy. Picture: Brendon Ratnayake/SWpix.com

In some ways, then, you could argue it is not as bad as it all seems for the West Yorkshire club.

It isn’t really. They just came up against one of the greatest club teams in the history of the sport. There’s a reason Craig Bellamy has been in charge at AAMI Park for 15 years – he gets his Melbourne side playing as brilliantly as this.

The side have met four times now with Leeds triumphing just once.

McDermott is clearly a fan of Bellamy but he, rather boldly, insisted: “I’d like to say, give my team 10 games like that, and by week eight, nine and 10 I reckon we’d be up to that level.

A disappointed Leeds after conceding a try

A disappointed Leeds after conceding a try

“We will learn some massive lessons from that, but it will be another couple of games before we are in a game that’s as intense as that and played at that level.

“Errors killed us. You can’t make that many but we had to try something different to beat this Melbourne side and then it’s about getting the balance right.

“Their defence was outstanding, though, and the longer the game went on, the better they got in D (defence).

“No matter what we tried – and we did come up with some challenging plays – they just smothered it. I have got a healthy respect for their defence; it was awesome.”

It is fitting that in a park that, among other things, contains a stadium named after tennis great Rod Laver, a statue for runner John Land’s remarkable act of sportsmanship in 1956 and, of course, the world-famous MCG, that this great Melbourne Storm side resides, too. McDermott, a four-time Grand Final winning coach, looked as perplexed as anyone when it came to working out just how to beat them.

For now, he will begin the journey back to England today just hoping the injuries that afflicted his side yesterday are not too severe.

He lost loose forward Stevie Ward – who left the ground in a protective boot – and full-back Jack Walker inside the first half.

Both will certainly miss the Super League game at Widnes Vikings next Sunday while McDermott said Walker will need surgery on a knee problem.

On Ward, he said; “It looks like he’s torn a calf.

“I don’t know to what extent, but he has torn something.”

English sides have now won just two of the last 10 World Club Challenge contests as Australian clubs continue their recent domination.

Although much has been made about the travelling involved for Rhinos, McDermott said he would do it all again.

“For sure. It has been great,” he insisted.

“It was never a bind for us. I think for the Aussies and Kiwis coming over to England in January it is a massive shock because of the weather.

“For us it is decent and we’ve enjoyed it.

“Logistically, we played on Thursday night, got on a plane on Friday and arrived here on Saturday night to start building up for Melbourne.

“It is a challenge and then we get back and we fall back into Super League.

“It is not easily done, but we don’t have any qualms coming out here.”

Leeds captain Kallum Watkins remained proud of his team’s efforts and, like his coach, paid tribute to Melbourne’s defence.

“It was really tough but exciting out there,” Watkins said. “We wanted to back ourselves and play a little bit, move them about and give ourselves an opportunity.

“But I think we shot ourselves in the foot, especially in the first half when we gave them too many opportunities and they punished us.

“We knew that if we gave them opportunities to apply pressure they would be clinical and they showed what a formidable side they are. For us there is plenty to learn from. I’m immensely proud of the effort – we never gave up. Things didn’t come off for us but you’ve got to give them a lot of credit for their defence.”