Leeds Rhinos - what are Richard Agar's options after long-term injuries to two key men
With 24 days to go, Leeds Rhinos coach Richard Agar probably had a good idea of his lineup for the Betfred Super League round one clash with Wakefield Trinity.
But now - two months into preparations for the new season - he faces going back to the drawing board after a double injury blow robbed Rhinos of full-back Jack Walker - with a potentially season-long foot problem - and stand-off Rob Lui, who has ruptured a quad muscle and could be sidelined for up to three months.
Leeds’ squad does include cover for both the last line of defence and the halves - unfortunately, that’s the same player in both cases, Richie Myler.
Rhinos’ other first-choice half, captain Luke Gale is also on the casualty list, having torn a pectoral muscle in his first pre-season gym session.
He is touch and go for round one and the latest setback will have added some more urgency to his recovery.
It is unlikely, though, he will be risked in Rhinos’ only trial game, at Huddersfield Giants on Sunday, March 14, so Agar won’t have an opportunity to test possible combinations in match conditions.
The other specialist stand-off in Leeds’ squad is Callum McLelland, who has played 11 first team games, but underwent surgery on an ankle in the off-season.
So what are the options?
Myler has proved he can do an outstanding job at full-back, having filled in there - and won the Lance Todd Trophy in that role - since Walker suffered a fractured foot two days short of a year ago.
Assuming they are both fit, McClelland could then partner Gale in the halves.
Alternatively, Agar may opt for experience and partner Myler with Gale, probably with Ash Handley moving to full-back and Luke Briscoe coming in on a wing.
But Handley was Super League’s top try scorer last term and that would mean shifting two players from positions where they were in good form in 2020.
Leeds aren't shy of using their academy, but the lower grades didn't play at all last year and it's doubtful anyone at that level is ready to step up.
Rhinos could try to bring a player in, possibly on loan and will no doubt be looking, but with the NRL yet to start and Super League in the late stages of pre-season, the market is very limited.
A full-back who can also play stand-off on a one-year deal would be a possible solution, but Lui and McLelland are both off contract this autumn, so Rhinos may well have already been looking at potential number sixes.
It’s a tricky situation, so late in pre-season, but sometimes things work out in unexpected ways, such as Myler’s shift to full-back last year.
McLelland impressed at Featherstone Rovers in 2019, but has yet to grab control of a game in Leeds’ first team.
Rhinos have spoken about giving young players a chance and if they do opt to hand him a go - which is probably the least disruptive solution - it will give him an opportunity to prove he has a long-term future at the top level.
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