Kyle Eastmond - Leeds Rhinos coach Richard Agar predicts former rugby union ace will shine on return to Super League

Cross-code rescuit Kyle Eastmond will “light up” Emerald Headingley, Leeds Rhinos coach Richard Agar predicts.

By Peter Smith
Thursday, 4th March 2021, 10:47 am

Eastmond, 31, joined Rhinos today (Wednesday) on a two-year deal, a decade after his last game of rugby league.

The former St Helens and England half-back switched to union with Bath in 2011 and later had spells at Wasps and Leicester, who he left last summer, as well as in the national side.

His signing was announced less than 24 hours after Leeds revealed stand-off Rob Lui is facing up to three months on the sidelines because of a torn quad muscle and full-back Jack Walker could miss the whole 2021 campaign following a recurrence of a foot injury.

Rhinos' new number 33 at Headingley on Wednesday. Picture by Phil Daly/Leeds Rhinos.

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Agar coached Eastmond in the England academy set-up 15 years ago and said he “has the ability to light up what is already a terrific place to play on a Friday night”.

He said: “He has star quality.

“If you are a fan, you can’t wait for moments of excitement from Kyle.

Kyle Eastmond in rugby union action for England against the All Blacks in 2014. Picture by Chris Fuller/PA Wire.

“He is multi-skilled; he has the ability to pass the ball short or long off both hands, he has an explosive running game and a kicking game we know has only been enhanced playing in rugby union.”

Eastmond played centre in union and Agar has no concerns over his ability to adapt back to defending in rugby league.

He said: “One thing we did chat about was the defensive differences.

“Being a number 12 in union, you probably get a bit more traffic than being a three-in defender in rugby league.

“Having to throw himself in front of some bigger bodies is an indication Kyle’s certainly not struggling when it comes to toughness and bravery.

“Some of the cauldrons he has played in, in rugby union, he has faced some of the biggest challenges that sport brings and we think bringing that experience into our camp is very positive for us.”

There were openings for Eastmond in the English Premiership and France.

More - Kyle Eastmond - former rugby union star reveals why he joined Leeds Rhinos in first interview since returning to rugby league

Agar admitted it would have been “easier and probably more lucrative” for him to have stayed in the 15-a-side game, but stressed he has come to Leeds “for the right reasons”.

Agar said: “We’ve known for a while Jack was having some struggles with his foot and we needed to bolster our spine and key positions.

“Kyle’s skillset as a rugby player, be it league or union, is phenomenal and we feel it has sharpened his skillset being in union.

“I feel his experience in union can be a benefit to us because, if we’re talking about challenges, he was at the pinnacle of rugby league as a young fella and he decided to take on a new challenge which culminated in facing the All Blacks in Auckland.

“He has still played league longer than union and he has never been frightened of taking a challenge on.

“Part of our conversation was ‘this is a challenge’ and you’ve really got to want to do it.

“We initially talked about him coming and playing this season and seeing how it all went but, within a day, he came back and said ‘I am in and I want to commit for longer than that’.

“That was a massive selling point for us.”

Eastmond has been signed to play in the halves and, once ready, is likely to partner captain Luke Gale, allowing Richie Myler to continue at full-back where he stood in successfully for Walker last year.

It could take a while for Eastmond to convert back to league, but Agar insisted: “It is not all about round one.

“There’s a lot of conjecture about our team for round one, but we want to sustain a presence and challenge this year, next year and the year after.

“It’s not all about getting Galey fit for round one and making sure Kyle is at the top of his game for round one.

“That would be lovely, but there’s a bigger picture for us, hence the two-season contract.

“We are really confident, given his athletic ability, skillset and history in the game, it is a matter of time - not if - that he becomes a major presence in this sport again.”

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