Leeds Rhinos: Why coach Richard Agar is happy to have a selection headache
IT IS “too early” to make a decision on who will start the season as Leeds Rhinos’ full-back, coach Richard Agar says.
Jack Walker, a Grand Final winner in 2017, has retained the number one jersey, despite not playing for more than a year.
The 22-year-old sustained a foot injury early in the 2020 campaign and missed the whole of 2021 after suffering a recurrence in pre-season training.
Richie Myler, previously a scrum-half, took over when Walker was initially hurt, despite never having played at full-back and has since made the position his own, winning the Lance Todd Trophy from there in 2020.
Myler, 31, signed a new three-year contract at the start of this month and was man of the match in Rhinos’ 34-6 Boxing Day win over Wakefield Trinity.
But Leeds’ management hope Walker will be fit for the start of the 2022 Betfred Super League campaign in February, and Agar is excited about the prospect of two quality players tussling for the spot.
“It’s too early for that,” Agar said of the decision he will have to make once Walker is given the all-clear.
“Richie is a good player and has played well in that position for a long period of time.
“We are very lucky to have those guys in our squad.”
The Leeds boss insisted competition for places is “the name of the game”, adding: “If I am getting headaches like that, as opposed to the ones I had last season, they will be very, very welcome.”
Long-serving three-quarter Tom Briscoe dropped down Rhinos’ numerical order from two to 20 – to make way for new signing David Fusiutu’a – when 2022 shirts were handed out last month.
Agar stressed: “I will use a quote from him, when we had the squad number conversation. Tommy is a highly-experienced player, on the back of a pretty good season last year, too.
“His immediate reaction was ‘if you want to play in a team that’s going to be challenging, there has to be competition for places’. That summed it up really well for me, that’s what the boys know.
“Squad numbers can work two ways, when you’re moving somebody up you can give it as a promotion and when you’re maybe moving someone down a bit you tell them squad numbers don’t really matter. But the reality is, competition for places and form will dictate.
“We will only be as strong as our squad enables.
“Seventeen guys – as we know more than anyone – don’t carry you through a season. It is a squad effort and hopefully not only the good, experienced players who are competing for places, but also some of our younger guys will put severe pressure on some people above them.”
Agar said he “saw some of that” in the Boxing Day game.
“Morgan Gannon and Jarrod O’Connor gave us really good impetus off the bench,” Agar added.
“Brad Dwyer had a good game when he came on and Liam Tindall is one I will mention too.
“His rate of improvement in pre-season has been fantastic and he is a super young athlete.”