Leeds Rhinos' Richard Agar says squad "completely deflated" and worried by Covid lay-off
LEEDS Rhinos boss Richard Agar says his squad are “completely deflated” at seeing their game against St Helens postponed following a Covid outbreak and worries what the long-lasting effects could be on the sport as a whole.
Huddersfield Giants’ contest against Wigan Warriors - also scheduled for Friday - was postponed yesterday due to seven positive tests in the Giants ranks.
That was the first Super League game this season to be called off due to the pandemic but Leeds’ televised clash at Emerald Headingley has quickly followed suit after Rhinos reported two players had tested positive.
They have a further seven players who needed to stand down due to track and trace protocols and a third positive test was returned this morning although that has yet to be confirmed.
Leeds, who had no game last weekend due to the Challenge Cup semi-finals, are due to play against Catalans Dragons in France on Saturday week but that has immediately come under threat, too.
The West Yorkshire club was one of the worst hit by Covid-related matters last season and Agar - who says they have only 14 available players - conceded the news has been a hammer blow.
“We are completely deflated,” he said.
“I just think as a sport we went through what we had to do last year.
“I don’t think there was many clubs that had is as bad as we did in terms of people off.
“We made a Cup final and the fixture congestion we had and the times we had to field weakened teams and I just think, as a sport, there was a general feeling we’d got through all that.
“But clearly the new wave seems to be on its way and that’s the real concern for us as a club this morning.
“We’ve had guys contract Covid but also some of the guys who were stood down because of track and trace protocols have subsequently tested positive over the last 24/48 hours as well.
“That shows a couple of things; the track and trace has worked in this instance but it’s a long time until Friday as well.
“We’re in a position now where we think about the next 24-48 hours - given what happened to us before when we had an outbreak at the club - and we’re following protocols.
“And unfortunately the protocols around six players we have had to stand down on track and trace have all had Covid.
“I guess the likelihood of them getting infected is not great but, at the same time, rules are rules and we have to follow protocols.”
Agar’s side had vanquished Castleford Tigers with a record-breaking 60-6 win on their last outing and, with players fit again, had hoped to start building their season.
They will try and rearrange the fixture but Agar already envisages issues.
“It is frustrating,” he added.
“It’s (going to be) a beautiful night (on Friday) and a home game so there’s the financial aspect for our club.
“You’re kicking fixtures down the road and looking at what’s in front of you in June and July, the concern for me as a coach is I’m losing a shed of players over the next ten days.
“We’re on the back of a good win, getting some players back, feel like we’re getting some momentum so there’s going to be a break in that and it’s looking at the congestion we could face down the track so it is incredibly disappointing and worrying as we move forward.
“I guess given what’s happening in the country and the rate of infection going up, and experience over the last two months, says there will be some correlation.
“We’ve seen it at Huddersfield. It was a pretty deflated place coming in this morning and a little bit like, ‘here we go again’.
"All of a sudden we’ll have at least three weeks between our next fixture. It just throws everything into an unknown, chaotic state which we got through a lot last year but it’s not without its ramifications."
Players who have tested positive and close contacts will all have to self-isolate for ten days.
Agar said the Challenge Cup holders had done everything possible to get the game on.
It was due to be broadcast live by Sky Sports but they will now show Hull KR v Salford Red Devils.
"If we didn’t have to stand players down who had already had Covid in the last 120 days we’d be alright," said Agar.
"But unfortunately we don’t make the rules.
"Even pulling Academy players up is a non-starter for us. Our Academy players have had two games in 18 months.
"We let a lot of our top-end Academy players go and our top-end Academy players we think are ready to play first grade are already in our squad.
"Coupled with some injuries it is genuinely impossible for us to field a team given what the rules and protocols are."
And the former Wakefield Trinity and Hull FC chief is worried about the knock-on effects for the sport.
"We’ve talked to the boys this morning in terms of whether there has been a lull in relaxing protocols," he said.
"We don’t think there is. But the bottom line is shops, restaurants and coffee shops are open so can we afford to go in any public places any more…?
"My thoughts as well are about Wembley finals. My thoughts initially are with us and you can imagine what it’s been like behind the scenes these last 24-48 hours working out if there’s anything we can do to avoid this situation.
"We don’t think there is without it being extremely irresponsible on our part.
"We’re due to play a team (St Helens) that is in a Challenge Cup final in five weeks.
"Having been there ourselves last year, knowing what testing procedures were like going into those games and we’ve four teams in the 1895 Cup and Challenge Cup final...
"If the rate of infection is doubling - as it seems to have done - there’s a wider implication for the sport and the impact it could have on those showpiece games.
"We know what it was like and Dan Sarginson can tell you last year the difficulty and anxiety around all that."
Salford Red Devils centre Sarginson, of course, missed the Challenge Cup final against Leeds at Wembley last October after contracting Covid.