Leeds Rhinos v Wigan Warriors: Richard Agar issues a challenge to his players

BOSS RICHARD Agar is calling for “the same again” from his Leeds Rhinos side in tonight’s meeting with another of Betfred Super League’s “benchmark” teams.

Thursday, 15th April 2021, 6:00 am

Rhinos are backing up just five days after their injury-hit side – reduced to 12 men for 35 minutes – dug deep to push St Helens all the way in a hard-fought Challenge Cup tie.

Agar was proud of that performance, but, with Leeds still missing at least 10 members of their first-team squad, the odds are against them again.

The coach, though, insists he has full faith in the players who will take to the field and has challenged them to reproduce a similar effort this evening, against a team they have not beaten in the league since 2017.

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HARD GRAFT: St Helens' Agnatius Paasi is tackled by Leeds Rhinos' Zane Tetevano, Kruise Leeming and Matt Prior. Picture: Mike Egerton/PA Wire.

“I thought, given the circumstances we faced during the week and the balance of the team we had out – with two minutes to go, to have a penalty goal separating us, with 12 men, it was a great effort,” Agar said.

“We don’t want to be gallant losers, but in the context of where we were at, our effort last weekend was magnificent and we defended really hard – and we conceded two tries with 12 men.

“Emotionally, physically and mentally, we’ve got to recover, recharge and get ready to do the same again this week.”

The short turnaround makes it even tougher, but Agar stressed: “That’s the challenge.”

BAN: Leeds Rhinos' Zane Tetevano's late tackle on St Helens' Theo Fages resulted in the Leeds forward being handed a four-match ban. Picture: Mike Egerton/PA Wire.

He said: “We haven’t got a couple of results, but I have a lot of faith in the guys who are in our squad at this moment in time.

“They know what it’s all about, they know where we are at, they really care about the jersey and I know they will be doing their utmost.”

Kyle Eastmond, the former St Helens back who joined Rhinos last month after a decade in rugby union, will make his debut today.

Liam Sutcliffe is also in contention after missing last week’s game due to a knee problem and if he and Eastmond pair up in the halves, that will allow Cameron Smith and Rhyse Martin to return to the pack.

“There were parts of our performances that weren’t as clean and as smooth as they needed to be,” Agar admitted of the game five days ago.

“Certainly our last plays needed to be better, but I challenge anybody to play without a kicker and come up with a blue chip kicking game - and I thought our players during the week bought into our plan.

“We thought we’d have to win a low-scoring, tight game and they bought into it and it gave us a chance of pulling off a very good victory.”

Wigan have begun the year with three successive wins, beating Leigh Centurions and Wakefield Trinity before defeating Championship outfit York City Knights in the Betfred Challenge Cup last Friday.

They are also on a five-game winning run against Leeds in Betfred Super League, but Rhinos came out on top the last time the teams met, in a 2020 Challenge Cup semi-final.

“They’ve not been without some injury problems too,” Agar said of tonight’s visitors.

“They have got good players, Jackson Hastings is obviously a strong influence for them and their back-rowers are probably the best two in the competition.

“They are a good side and they are always a tough team, but it’s a good challenge for us and one we are looking forward to.

“We have got big respect for the opposition, but at this stage, we will be concentrating on playing to our strengths.”

Meanwhile, Agar said the club is “considering” appealing Zane Tetevano’s four-match ban.

The Kiwi was suspended by an independent disciplinary tribunal on Tuesday after being found guilty of a Grade D striking charge following the late, high tackle on Saints’ Theo Fages that led to his red card last weekend.

Leeds challenged the ‘D’ grading, which comes with a maximum five-game tariff, and Agar said: “We’re really, really disappointed. We’ve looked at a number of similar tackles and I know every tackle is different.

“We understand the legislation around hitting ball-players late and at times in the back and creating whiplash injuries when the player’s relaxed...

“We get that which is why we pleaded guilty. But we’re hugely disappointed with the grading and the findings.

“I look forward to every similar tackle being dealt with the same vigour this year although I’m not sure, at the moment, from the clips we’ve seen and number of tackles we’ve seen cautioned and Grade As, that a severity of a Grade D matched up with those.”

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