Leeds Rhinos’ bad luck with injuries shows no sign of changing soon – Peter Smith
IF SOMEBODY bought Leeds Rhinos coach Richard Agar a rocking horse for his birthday, it would probably die.
Agar – and by extension Rhinos – has had plenty of luck this season, all of it bad and the situation shows no sign of changing any time soon.
The injuries to Luke Gale and Konrad Hurrell in last week’s win over Leigh Centurions were the latest in a succession of setbacks which have been occurring since, literally, the very start of pre-season.
When Gale tore a pectoral muscle in the opening training session, it was a sign of things to come.
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Gale, one of if not the most influential players in Rhinos’ squad, managed to be fit for Betfred Super League round one, but soon suffered a fractured thumb which put him back on the sidelines.
He has also had a couple of suspensions and the game at Leigh was the first time he and fellow first-choice half-back Rob Lui had been on the field together this year.
Knee damage inside the opening quarter soon put a stop to that.
Lui tore a quad muscle in pre-season and then a hamstring in his first game back, full-back Jack Walker suffered a recurrence of a foot injury in pre-season and is unlikely to play at all in 2021 and Alex Mellor (knee), Mikolaj Oledzki (foot), Liam Sutcliffe (knee) and – potentially – Jack Broadbent (ankle) are out for the season. Zane Tetevano (Covid), Harry Newman (recovering from a broken leg suffered last September), Cameron Smith (hamstring), Richie Myler (hamstring), Ash Handley (knee injuries and concussion), Callum McLelland (groin) and Matt Prior (Covid) are among the others who have spent lengthy time on the casualty list.
As far as the Super League era is concerned, it is probably an unprecedented situation for Leeds. They have had injury crises in the past, but none as severe and long-lasting as this one.
The Covid outbreak in June was Rhinos’ second of the year, after one in pre-season and they’ve also had a run of suspensions, including a harsh four-match ban for Tetevano.
In the circumstances, sixth in the table with a 50 per cent winning record is better than it might have been.
It is also frustrating because there have been flashes of what might have happened, had Rhinos been able to get most of their first-choice players on the field at the same time.
Unfortunately, there hasn’t been an opportunity to develop combinations in the pivotal positions and that has told.
Against Castleford Tigers in their most recent home game, Leeds had most of the territory and possession, but couldn’t turn that dominance into points and were well beaten.
In the first half against Leigh they – surprisingly given the small pack they had on the field – marched up-field quite comfortably, but execution was poor.
That’s hardly surprising as, in both matches, Rhinos finished with a different half-back pairing to the one that had started.
In 19 competitive fixtures this year, Rhinos have fielded 10 different combinations at six and seven. They’ve also used four players at full-back.
Eyebrows were raised when Rhinos announced the signing of Warrington Wolves’ No 6 Blake Austin for next year, having also recruited stand-off/scrum-half Aidan Sezer from Huddersfield Giants.
But only one specialist half-back in the current squad is contracted for 2022, Luke Gale and cover is needed urgently.
The plan is for Gale and Sezer to be six and seven, with Austin effectively number 14 – able to cover those positions, but also full-back, centre or loose-forward.
He was a substitute for Warrington at Wakefield Trinity two days ago, came on at loose-forward and scored a try from the right-wing.
Kruise Leeming and Brad Dwyer have both gone well this year and another hooker, Corey Johnson, is due to return to the squad in 2023.
With Myler and, hopefully, Walker competing for the full-back role, Rhinos won’t be short of players capable of making things happen.
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