Stunning Storm overwhelm Rhinos, but suffer Slater shoulder scare
Melbourne Storm thumped Leeds Rhinos 38-4 at AAMI Park to win the World Club Challenge, but an injury scare for Billy Slater threatened to overshadow the NRL premiers' success.
Stepping into the shoes of Cooper Cronk, who has ended his glittering stint with the Storm to join Sydney Roosters, young half-back Brodie Croft played a starring role on Friday, scoring one try and having a hand in three others.
However, Slater did not emerge for the second half after jarring his shoulder. Although the Storm insisted his withdrawal was "purely as a precaution", there will be concern over the fitness of the veteran full-back, who made a glorious return from career-threatening shoulder injuries in 2017.
Leeds, who were also hampered by injuries to Jack Walker and Stevie Ward, struck first through Ryan Hall, but trailed 18-4 at the interval following tries from Jesse Bromwich, Croft and Suliasi Vunivalu.
Although the Storm do not begin their NRL season until March, they looked much the sharper after the interval against opponents who have already played two Super League matches in 2018.
Further scores from Nelson Asofa-Solomona and Felise Kaufusi wrapped up victory before the hour mark, and two more tries followed courtesy of Will Chambers and Dale Finucane.
The Rhinos started superbly and moved into a deserved lead when a no-look pass from Ward got Hall over in the left corner.
However, Bromwich was put through a gap by Croft to level the scores and the latter then dummied over for a try of his own, which Cameron Smith converted to make it 10-4.
Smith added a penalty and split the posts again with the last action of the first period, after Vunivalu had cut in off the right flank to score for an increasingly dominant home side.
The loss of Slater was a blow for Melbourne, but they nevertheless controlled the second half, with Croft again involved in Kaufusi's 56th-minute try.
A high kick from Croft then led to Chambers going over on the right wing and Finucane put the icing on the cake just before the hooter.