Leeds Rhinos: How coach Richard Agar's team could line up in Super League round one
Leeds Rhinos will begin pre-season training in 10 days’ time, on Monday, November 22 and coach Richard Agar is facing some tough decisions when it comes to deciding his best 13.
Seven players have moved on since Rhinos’ final game of 2021, at the start of last month and three of those - Konrad Hurrell, Rob Lui, Luke Gale - were regular starters in their position.
With four players, including two Man of Steel nominees, coming into the group, Rhinos’ squad looks to have more depth in key positions now, despite the departure of those influential names.
Added to the recruits, Jack Walker is expected to be available after missing the whole of this year - and much of 2020 - with a foot injury.
His return to fitness will give Agar his initial dilemma.
The 2017 Grand Final winner is Rhinos’ first-choice full-back, but Richie Myler has been impressive since taking over the role when Walker was injured. Myler is too influential to be left out of the 17 and Leeds won’t want - or need - to rush Walker back, but his availability will boost Agar's options.
Ash Handley can cover full-back or centre, but is most effective as a winger, having been Betfred Super League’s top scorer in 2020.
He is likely to start there, with import David Fusitu’a - who can also play at centre - on the other side of the field.
Harry Newman is an automatic pick at centre when available, but Liam Sutcliffe and Tom Briscoe, who switched from the wing at times this year, will contest the other spot, along with the versatile Jack Broadbent who provides cover across the backline.
Gale’s departure to Hull resolved one issue, effectively confirming signings Blake Austin and Aidan Sezer as Rhinos’ number six and seven, with Myler as back-up.
Kruise Leeming can also slot into the halves if needed. He did a good job there this year and with Brad Dwyer starting and Corey Johnson among the substitutes, that doesn’t significantly weaken Rhinos at hooker.
Leeds’ pack looks formidable. Mikolaj Oledzki and Matt Prior will almost certainly be Agar’s starting props - packing down either side of Leeming - and there aren’t many better front-rows in the competition.
Tom Holroyd should get plenty of game time off the bench, starting when needed and Zane Tetevano will be at loose-forward as an extra prop, but a couple of injuries to middle players would be a problem.
On the other hand, Agar is spoiled for choice in the second-row.
James Bentley, signed from St Helens, hasn’t been brought in to sit on the bench.
He will surely be a starter, but Agar will have to decide between Rhyse Martin - whose goal kicking is invaluable - and Alex Mellor for the other place.
The four substitute spots will be fiercely contested. Holroyd and back-up hooker Dwyer are certain to have a significant role off the bench and ball-player Cameron Smith is another natural choice, with Bodene Thompson, James Donaldson and youngsters including Morgan Gannon, Jarrod O’Connor and Sam Walters battling for the other spot.
Levi Edwards, Corey Hall and Levi Tidall are also waiting in the wings after gaining first team experience on loan this year.
There’s no such thing as too many good players, but potentially some quality individuals will miss out each week. Realistically, injuries and suspensions are inevitable, however Rhinos do appear better equipped to cope next year.
Assuming Rhinos’ squad gets through pre-season unscathed and there are no more additions or departures, the 17 for round one could look something like this: Myler, Handley, Sutcliffe, Newman, Fusitu’a, Austin, Sezer, Oledzki, Leeming, Prior, Martin, Bentley, Tetevano. Subs Dwyer, Holroyd, Smith, Donaldson.
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