A GRUELLING 31-hour-journey to present his son with his first NRL jersey was rewarded yesterday when Paul Harris watched 21-year-old Tohu score a magnificent try in Melbourne’s World Club Challenge win over Leeds.
Team-mates admitted after the 18-14 triumph admitted to choking up when coach Craig Bellamy called on the back rower’s father to present his shirt at a team function on Thursday night.
The fairytale was complete when the Hawke’s Bay product finished off a sizzling 50 metre movement to scored a 47th-minute try that put the NRL champions in front 18-8.
Harris wasn’t told his father would present him with his jersey. “It was a surprise to me and it was a special moment,” the quietly-spoken rookie said.
“It was a bit of a shock to the system, the first 10 minutes. It was lightning-quick but a good experience. I had some butterflies an hour before the game but it was good when we ran out for the warm-up.”
Father Paul had never been to the UK before and dropped everything on Tuesday to make the trip,. “I went from Napier to Auckland, Auckland to LA, then to London and onto Leeds.”
It was also a big night for the legacy of former Storm recruitment manager Darren Bell, who died of a heart attack 14 months ago. Bell discovered Harris and New Zealand Test prop Jesse Bromwich, who scored the previous try by beating four defenders on a bumping, stepping run off a Cooper Cronk pass.
“(Bell) was very good at his job and it’s a nice little reward for him if he’s looking down on us,” said Bromwich.
“It’s always good to have another Kiwi in there. I was imagining if my parents (presented my first jersey), that would be pretty special.”
In cold conditions in front of a parochial 20,400 crowd, the Storm took an early 8-0 lead with man-of-the-match Cronk putting Ryan Hoffman through at 20 minutes and fullback Billy Slater backing up to score.
But Leeds’ England winger Ryan Hall snuck over in the corner nine minutes later and Golden Boot holder Kevin Sinfield added a conversion and penalty goal after the halftime siren for 8-8.
Bromwich’s powerful try put Melbourne on the front foot after halftime as he left defender after defender in his wake. “I don’t know what happened there, I just got lucky,” he said.
Cooper Cronk, Will Chambers, Cameron Smith and Sisa Waqa played key roles in Harris’ touchdown but Leeds managed an impressive response at 54 minutes.
Hall fielded captain Sinfield’s kick and a magnificent overhead pass from Joel Moon resulted in back rower Jamie Jones-Buchanan scoring a converted try.
There, four points the difference, was where it stayed during a see-sawing final 26 minutes, although Stormer Mahe Fonua had a try disallowed with 10 do go because referee Ben Thaler believed the final pass from Justin O’Neill had been forward.
“We made it a bit hard on ourselves,” said Bellamy. “There were a couple of forward passes and Sisa (Waqa) threw a couple of balls away down there after we’d made breaks.
“We probably gave the Rhinos a few too many chances for my liking.
“It’s well known that some clubs don’t take this seriously, but we’re not going to come all this way to take it easy,”
Harris has almost certainly cemented a spot for the round one clash with St George Illawarra. Bellamy said he was impressed with fullback Slater in his first full match of the year after a restricted pre-season. “I was a bit worried,” said Bellamy. “He only played 20 minutes against Canberra and he was really fatigued after those 20 minutes.
“He had a really good involvement. Some of the bombs he caught tonight were outstanding.”
Had Melbourne been allowed to keep their 2010 WCC title, they would now be the first Australian club to win the title three times. As it is, they have won the match three times, but the record books show they have been world champions only twice.
Filed for: SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
MELBOURNE 18(B Slater J Bromwich T Harris tries C Smith 3 goals) bt LEEDS 14 (R Hall J Jones-Buchanan tries K Sinfield 3 goals) at Headingley. Crowd: 20,400. Referee: B Thaler.Final team lists:
LEEDS: Kallum Watkins; Joe Vickery, Carl Ablett, Joel Moon, Ryan Hall; Kevin Sinfield (c), Danny McGuire; Jamie Jones-Buchanan, Brett Delaney, Stevie Ward, Jamie Peacock, Rob Burrow, Kylie Leuluai. Res: Chris Clarkson, Ian Kirke, Paul McShane, Mitch Achurch.
MELBOURNE: Billy Slater; Sisa Waqa, Will Chambers, Justin O’Neill, Mahe Fonua; Gareth Widdop, Cooper Cronk; Ryan Hinchcliffe, Ryan Hoffman, Tohu Harris, Bryan Norrie, Cameron Smith (c), Jesse Bromwich. Res: Jason Ryles, Lagi Setu, Siosaia Vave, Junior Moors.