Leeds Rhinos boss hails form of recruits and young players
The performances from Leeds Rhinos' recruits and young players were a major positive of the 2020 season, coach Richard Agar says.
Agar feels Rhinos’ signings slotted in well and he was encouraged by the performance of the club’s rookies.
Luke Gale came in from Castleford Tigers and was appointed captain after Stevie Ward suffered a season-ending head injury in the opening game.
The former Man of Steel missed only four of Rhinos’ 22 fixtures, all when he was rested.
Alex Mellor, the second-rower signed from Huddersfield Giants, made 13 appearances and former Cronulla Sharks forward Matt Prior played 16 times.
There was also a significant contribution from mid-season recruit Bodene Thompson, the forward playing 11 games after the restart and earning a new two-year deal.
Hooker Kruise Leeming missed the first part of the season through injury, but showed encouraging signs in 13 games after the restart.
Of the young players, prop Mikolaj Oledzki, who turned 22 earlier this month, topped Rhinos’ list of appearances with 20.
Centre Harry Newman, 20, earned a call into the England squad and was named Betfred Super League young player of the year, loose-forward Cameron Smith, who is a day older than Oledzki, was a regular in the side - playing 15 times - and centre/second-rower Alex Sutcliffe, 21, featured at Wembley among his nine senior games.
Prop Tom Holroyd, 19, also made a breakthrough with nine senior appearances, half-back Callum McLelland gained valuable game time in eight matches and several even younger players had an opportunity when Agar rested his top side before or after Challenge Cup ties.
“We feel the recruits who came into our club have been good,” Agar said.
“Matty and Luke have had a huge impact on us and Alex Mellor also played his part.
“We feel our young guys have moved forward and we have given ourselves a good foundation to build off.”
Agar admitted the target now is to climb at least two places on the table next season, but warned 2021 will be even more competitive.
“Now we want to go from a team that’s been around fourth and fifth to a team that can challenge for the top-three,” he pledged.
“But we recognise that realistically there’s probably seven or eight teams think they can do that.”
Rhinos will begin pre-season training on January 4, giving them two and a half months to prepare for the new campaign.
The players are now away from the club after having individual reviews last week and Agar said: “It’s a decent break.
“We have had team feedback and individual feedback and I think the overriding feeling is we let a good opportunity slip [in the play-offs], but we have only ourselves to blame.
“We’re happy we’ve won some silverware and happy we are back in the play-offs spots.
“The feeling is we can build from this, we can learn our lessons from this year and take it forward again next year.
“They are a really good bunch of players to work with, a really positive group and they are very self aware and reflective on where we need to improve, but let’s all hope next year isn’t a year like we’ve had this year.”
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