Here's what could be on Leeds Rhinos boss Richard Agar's agenda ahead of this week's Challenge Cup tie at St Helens

It's a big week for Leeds Rhinos who begin their defence of the Betfred Challenge Cup with the toughest possible tie, away to St Helens.

By Peter Smith
Monday, 5th April 2021, 11:45 am

Saturday’s task has been made harder by an early-season injury crisis and Leeds are coming off the back of a derby defeat by Castleford Tigers.

So what are the issues facing coach Richard Agar this week?

1: Injuries. With eight players, including six first-choice backs, unavailable, the temptation must be to rush some of them in to add more experience to the side. That was lacking in the outside-backs last week and opponents will naturally target young players. But Jack Walker's foot problem is a recurrence of the injury he suffered early last year and made a brief comeback from towards the end of the campaign and wear and tear has probably contributed to the absence of Konrad Hurrell (calf) and Rob Lui (quad). Bringing players back too early is often counterproductive and Agar will feel the better option is to take a long-term view. But the Challenge Cup beginning at a time when Rhinos have so many injuries is unfortunate.

Ash Hanldey's knee injury, suffered in a pre-season game at Huddersfield, was a blow for Rhinos. PIcture by Tony Johnson.

2: Youngsters. Some talented fringe players are getting an opportunity, but it is not ideal to throw so many in at once. Jack Broadbent and Alex Sutcliffe have both impressed in the two games so far and, after a shaky first half, Corey Hall showed some good signs against Castleford. That suggests the future’s bright for Rhinos, even if the present is a worry.

3: Kyle Eastmond. The high-profile signing has yet to feature, more than a month after joining Leeds following a decade in rugby union and Agar will have to decide whether he is ready to face his former club this weekend. Eastmond’s inclusion in the halves would allow Liam Sutcliffe to switch to centre and that one addition would give the backline a much more experienced look.

4: Zane Tetevano. Running at the big Kiwi will not be high on any opponent’s to-do list. Two games in, Agar can feel confident Rhinos have got the right man to strengthen their pack.

5: Errors. Last week’s defeat was disappointing, but Rhinos were more competitive than the scoreline suggests. That is a good sign for when more experienced players return, but Leeds can’t afford a repeat of the errors and penalties which hurt them against Tigers.

Rhinos' Alex Sutcliffe tackles Daniel Smith, of Castleford. Picture by Jonathan Gawthorpe.

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