Coach Richard Agar tells Leeds Rhinos' senior players to step up in Super League pressure derby against Wakefield Trinity
Leeds Rhinos coach Richard Agar is demanding a big improvement from some experienced players in Friday's home derby against Wakefield Trinity.
Speaking after the one-point defeat at Huddersfield Giants two weeks ago, Agar admitted Rhinos have “clearly got some experienced guys who are under-performing at the moment”.
Captain Luke Gale’s return tonight will give Rhinos some much-needed leadership, but nine members of the first team squad remain unavailable and Agar wants more from his senior players as they aim to end a five-game losing run.
“When you are going into games with key players missing, I think you expect your more senior players to be prominent and stand up,” Agar said in his press conference ahead of Friday's clash.
“I was disappointed in that game that we had a number of players who, in my opinion, played nowhere near the level they can play and played nowhere near the level we needed them to play, given we had players missing.
“They know and understand that and we have addressed that internally, as we should.”
The coach, who has been in charge for two years, added: “Rarely do I really bag my team in public, but I can’t say that at times in that game and through and crucial periods in that game I wasn’t majorly disappointed with the performance of some experienced players.”
Wakefield are in an even deeper hole, having lost all six games this season and their final two in 2020.
Two of those defeats have been against Agar’s men - including Rhinos’ only win this year - and they have not won since beating Leeds at St Helens’ TW Stadium last October.
Wakefield have also been battered by injuries to leading players, but Agar, a former Trinity coach, reckons they have been more competitive than results suggest.
He noted: “They have been trying really hard in games and lost their way at times, like ourselves.
“They have had to change the team a number of times through injury and some important players for them are missing, Tommy Johnstone being one.
“Matty Ashurst [who returns from injury tonight] has been an important player for them, Jacob Miller is a key player for them.
“They have had some difficulties, having to bring some loan players in, but I think they will pull enough positives out of a lot of the games they’ve played to still be thinking there’s a team in there that’s very capable of getting results.”
Agar pin-pointed loose-forward Joe Westerman as one of Trinity’s main threats.
“He has really stood up for them in a time when it has needed someone to grab hold of games,” Agar said of the former Hull and Warrington Wolves man who is set to rejoin his first club Castleford Tigers next year.
“He has been getting his hands on the ball a lot and has been a major focus for their attack.
“I am pretty good mates with Joe so I know people will think this is a mate talking about a mate, but trust me on this - I definitely wouldn’t say that about Joe unless I meant it!
“He has been a real shining light for them.”
Agar is also wary of rookie winger Lee Kershaw, who has a habit of scoring long-range breakaway tries against Rhinos.
“His work rate and his effectiveness, I think he has done a terrific job for them carrying the ball,” he added.
Bill Tupou and Jack Croft, who suffered a season-ending knee injury playing on loan for Oldham last week, are the latest players to join Trinity’s casualty list.
Wakefield coach Chris Chester admitted: “It is tough going at the minute, especially with the injuries we’ve had.”
But he insisted: “We can use the next five or six games as a real springboard.
“The table looks totally different when you get three or four wins under your belt.
“We are a positive group, we’re working hard and I think the squad we’ve got is more than capable of going and getting the result [tonight].”
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