LEEDS RHINOS have turned a corner, interim-coach Richard Agar believes, but not in the last two weeks.
Rhinos will go into tomorrow’s home game against Betfred Super League leaders St Helens on the back of successive big wins over Huddersfield Giants and Catalans Dragons.
Rhinos have won six and lost five of their 11 Super League games under Agar since he took charge three months ago and – based on the last six rounds – are fourth in the form table, behind Wigan Warriors, Saints and Salford Red Devils.
When they went bottom of Super League in June, following Hull KR’s surprise win over Hull, the situation looked bleak, but Leeds are now up to eighth and four points clear of the relegation zone.
The past two victories, when they scored 92 points and conceded only eight, have also boosted Rhinos’ points difference, which could yet prove crucial, but Agar doesn’t regard performances so far in August as a turning point, insisting “I think we turned a corner a while ago.”
He said: “Within that you do get some down weeks – we had one against Hull KR – but, in saying that, you are doing a disservice to the opposition.
“They played great that night.
“Then we lost to Hull and the rhetoric from us, as a coaching staff, was we understand why we got beat.
“There were some areas we felt we could be better, but our exact words to the players were ‘if we push up in those areas we will put the cleaners through someone at some point’.
“We have done that the last two weeks. We are facing a different challenge this week, but we are just approaching it the same as every game.”
Agar added: “It’s fair to say the players are in a good place.
“We know this is a real benchmark game and I have been saying for a while I think we are travelling all right. Even when we’ve got beaten in close games we’ve not been too far away.”
Leeds aren’t mathematically safe and Agar stressed they are taking nothing for granted.
Three of their final four games are against teams in the play-offs places, the exception being London away.
“It is a competitive league with a lot at stake at the moment and we are coming up against some good teams,” Agar warned.
“Some of the holes in us footy-wise will take time to iron out, but I do think we have made plenty of progress in that.
“Defensively our effort has been great, we have kept teams to two tries, no tries, one try – but I think we will gain plenty of confidence from our attack by putting a couple of 40 points on. That will do us a world of good.”
As expected, forward Stevie Ward has been named in Rhinos’ initial squad for the first time since suffering a knee injury against St Helens six months ago.
Nathaniel Peteru and Cameron Smith are also in contention to replace the suspended Brad Singleton, but there is still no place in Rhinos’ squad for veteran forward Jamie Jones-Buchanan.
The 38-year-old, who will retire after Rhinos’ final game of the season, has not played since May.
But Agar confirmed: “Jonesy will get some footy before the end of the year.
“He is training really well.”