It's been a disrupted pre-season for Leeds Rhinos - but boss Richard Agar says young players have proved their worth
Bad weather, injuries, coronavirus and travel delays - all of them problems thrown at Leeds Rhinos in what coach Richard Agar admits has been a far from straight-forward pre-season.
Many of Rhinos’ most senior players have had limited time on the training field, but on the flip side, an exciting crop of young prospects have had a chance to catch the eyes of the coaching staff.
“Last year we had 32 blokes training regularly and we had a pretty good run at it,” Agar said of the contrast between Rhinos’ 2020 and 2021 pre-seasons.
“This time it has been a bit different; we had some post-season operations and the Covid shutdown - and it wasn’t just 10 days of the shutdown, we had guys with Covid before and after that.
“Clearly, we’ve had some guys who have missed reasonable chunks which has made it a bit disjointed, but I will say, the guys we’ve had on the field have been great.
“It has been tough to get on playing surfaces because of the wet conditions.
“I think that’s the same as a lot of teams, from what I can gather, but we are all right, we will build into it.”
The success of a pre-season is only measured when the real business begins and Rhinos’ first test comes on Saturday, when they open their Betfred Super League campaign against Wakefield Trinity at Emerald Headingley.
“Matty Prior was late back and Luke Gale has missed a big chunk, but they are very experienced players so we’re not expecting too much of a difficult transition for those boys to get themselves ready to play,” Agar insisted of two key men who have had little time to train with their teammates.
“It has been good for the young guys and a fair number of them got a good run out at Huddersfield [two weeks ago].
“That will be good experience for them. We’ve had a good look at them and the season is going to be a test of how good your squad is, not just the 17 who take the field in round one.
“The test is how good and how deep your squad is.
“We have every confidence in the young guys, they showed a lot of promise last year.
“Some of them are at different stages of their development to others, but they are good kids.
“We think character-wise we have got a tight bunch of players and certainly our young kids have got terrific attitudes.”
Rhinos go into the season as Challenge Cup holders, but Agar reckons champions St Helens and last year’s league leaders Wigan Warriors remain the teams to catch in Super League.
“Wigan have brought John Bateman in and he will be a major player for them,” he predicted.
“They are always very strong and Saints have won the comp’ the last two years - they have had a change to a couple of overseas players, but they’ve brought in some very good players as well.
“I think those two will have high expectations and set the benchmark, but I think there’s a lot of clubs who will feel they have a stronger squad and, at this point in time, will feel they have a chance of having a good year.”
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