Leeds were no match for Australian champions Melbourne Storm who swept to a record-equalling fourth World Club Challenge title with a 38-4 victory at AAMI Park.
The Super League champions took a 10th-minute lead and shocked their hosts with some enterprising play but in the end were forced to bow to the superior skill of the Storm, who showed some delightful touches in running in seven unanswered tries.
Leeds were boosted by the return from injury of stand-off Joel Moon but they went into their eighth World Club Challenge without four senior front-row forwards and suffered major disruption during the game.
Full-back Jack Walker, who had made an impressive start to only his 15th first-grade match, went off 10 minutes before half-time with a knee injury and loose forward Stevie Ward quickly followed him to the sidelines with a calf problem.
Melbourne also lost their full-back Billy Slater at half-time with a shoulder problem, although they had a handy replacement in Cameron Munster, one of five members of Australia’s victorious 2017 World Cup squad.
They were among 13 members of Storm’s Grand Final-winning team but the champions will be most encouraged by the display of rookie scrum-half Brodie Croft, who helped his side begin the post-Cooper Cronk era in impressive fashion.
Yet the Rhinos were full of confidence from the start and their enterprise in running a penalty from in front of the posts in the ninth minute paid off when England winger Ryan Hall accepted a cut-out pass from Ward to go over for the game’s first try.
The 4-0 lead was fully deserved as Leeds, striving to overcome the challenge of two referees in front of a 16,029 crowd, tested the Storm defence but it quickly became the Croft show.
The half-back got prop Jesse Bromwich crashing over for an equalising try on 16 minutes, forced his way over himself seven minutes later and provided the final pass which enabled winger Suliasi Vunivalu to produce a devastating finish on the stroke of half-time.
It was a crucial time to score their third try and, with skipper Cameron Smith kicking two conversions and a penalty, an 18-4 lead presented the visitors with an insurmountable task.
There was certainly no way back once giant substitute Nelson Asofa-Solomona barged his way over eight minutes into the second half and, when second rower Felise Kaufusi ran onto a Croft pass to score his side’s fifth try, it became a damage limitation exercise for the Rhinos.
Second rower Brett Delaney showed there was still plenty of fight among the visitors when he got back to pull off a tremendous try-saving tackle on pacy winger Josh Addo-Carr but it was only a slight dent to Melbourne’s second-half supremacy.
Centre Will Chambers and loose forward Dale Finucane added further tries in the last 10 minutes as Leeds tired and Munster rounded off the scoring with his only conversion of the match.