Challenge Cup final - Leeds Rhinos boss targets strong start against Salford Red Devils

Small things win big games.

Friday, 16th October 2020, 4:45 pm
Rhinos celebrate their semi-final conquering of Wigan. Picture by Bruce Rollinson.

That will be boss Richard Agar’s message to his Leeds Rhinos players before they step out at Wembley tomorrow (Saturday) to face Salford Red Devils in an historic Coral Challenge Cup final.

Rhinos have beaten Salford twice in Betfred Super League this year, including a 50-12 win when they ran in nine tries less than two months ago, but both teams will go into the showpiece in good form and confident mood.

Agar, in his second Wembley final as a head coach, is aware of the threat Salford will pose, particularly after they came from behind to beat top-four sides Catalans Dragons - in golden point extra-time - and Warrington Wolves in their two previous ties.

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The Rhinos boss has emphasised the importance of a strong start, but believes if Leeds get the basics right they will come home with the trophy, for the first time since 2015.

An error-free first half, in appalling conditions, set Rhinos on course for their semi-final win over Wigan Warriors two weeks ago and Agar has challenged his men to produce the same again.

“For us, it is about nailing all the little things,” said the 48-year-old who was in charge of Hull when they lost to St Helens at Wembley 12 years ago.

“It’s about making sure our defence is good, we nail our kick-chase game and we complete high.

“That sounds really bland, but at the same time that’s what’s going to give us a platform to build our game on.

“It is important in a final you set the foundation early; you don’t want any scoreboard pressure too early, where you are chasing the game.

“Getting your first contacts and first carries under your belt is really important for players in a game like this.”

Coronavirus restrictions mean the final will be played behind closed doors with only around 500 people - including players and club staff - inside the 90,000 capacity stadium.

The winning captain will collect the trophy from a plinth placed on the pitch after the final hooter and there will be no lap of honour.

Dealing with the lack of atmosphere will be a factor, but both teams have two months’ experience of playing behind closed doors and Agar insisted, with silverware on the line, there will be no problem motivating his players.

“It is going to be a special occasion, regardless,” he stated.

“In April or May there was probably some doubt we’d even get back on the field, so to be able to play in such a magnificent stadium, in such a prestigious game, is a real honour and privilege for us and I think it’s great for the sport we are getting that.”

Six members of Rhinos’ initial 21-man squad have Cup final experience, but only Tom Briscoe, Liam Sutcliffe, Adam Cuthbertson and Richie Myler - for Warrington Wolves against Leeds - have won the trophy.

Agar admitted: “Of course it is disappointing for the guys who have not experienced it before that they don’t get to walk out in front of a massive crowd and their families don’t get to be there.

“But, as [assistant-coach] Jamie Jones-Buchanan has pointed out, it will be a final that goes down in history because of it being behind closed doors.”

And there is a positive side to the locked gates, Agar reckons. Normally, Wembley week is dominated by media commitments and preparations away from the training field, but - though Leeds had a game at Warrington four days ago, when a young side were beaten 32-6 - Agar said this time Rhinos have been able to focus purely on the job at hand.

“We’ve not had to worry about hotel rooms or tickets for extended family and friends,” he pointed out. “It is going to be all business and while we are missing out on the crowd, there is an element for me of it just enabling us to maintain our focus on what’s important and not have what is usually a lot of external distractions.”

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