Fixture switch means Leeds Rhinos can field a team against Salford Red Devils says boss Richard Agar
Delaying this weekend’s game at Salford Red Devils by two days means Leeds Rhinos can put a team out, coach Richard Agar says.
But Agar remains dismayed at the “shambolic” situation caused by staging a full round of Betfred Super League matches on the same weekend as an international showpiece.
Rhinos’ round 11 fixture has been put back to Sunday afternoon, with a 1pm kick off, to avoid a clash with Friday’s mid-season Test between England and Combined Nations All Stars.
Salford had wanted to stick with the original date, but Leeds used an RFL bylaw which allows clubs to request a postponement if they have four or more players on international duty.
Rhinos’ Ash Handley, Luke Gale and Mikolaj Oledzki are in the England squad, with Kruise Leeming and Matt Prior set to feature for the All Stars.
Sunday is a day short of a month since Rhinos last played, in a 60-6 win over Castleford Tigers on May 28.
They had no game the following weekend because of the Challenge Cup semi-finals and their next two matches, against St Helens and Catalans Dragons, were postponed following a coronavirus outbreak among Rhinos’ squad.
The five players on international duty could now back up for Rhinos at Salford and some of the players who tested positive for Covid will also be available after completing their return to play protocol.
Agar said: “Take five players off us, plus the ones who’ve had Covid and our injuries and we would not have been able to field a team at Salford.
“I have sympathy for Salford, they have got to move a game from Friday to Sunday, which gives them less lead-in time for their game next Thursday.
“It puts more stress and strain on them, but the bottom line for us is - through no fault of our own - we simply would be unable to field a team.
“There is some common sense involved, but I think the whole episode around this game has been shambolic.”
Agar described staging a full round of Super League matches on the weekend of an England game as a “self-inflicted wound” and predicted fixture congestion will harm the national side’s chances in this autumn’s World Cup.
The Leeds boss said he “totally agrees” with RFL chief executive Ralph Rimmer’s suggestion the game in this country should be geared towards beating Australia at Test level.
But he warned: “Our five players who are playing in the international on Friday are looking at playing on Friday, Sunday, Thursday, Monday, Friday.
“Making elite players - I know Matty Prior’s not English, but the rest are - play five games in 15 days mid-season, I can’t see for the life of me how that’s going to help us beat Australia.”
He added: “I totally understand the difficulties for chief executives, with Covid, but Friday’s game should have been a prestigious fixture, given a stand-alone weekend.
“Then we’d have given the All Stars all our overseas players if they’d wanted them.
“Being able to have a full week’s prep’ and choose whoever he wants is what Shaun Wane deserves as national coach and that’s what we as a game should give him.
“Even without Covid, it still beggars belief how this has been scheduled.”
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