Players ‘live’ for do-or-die Challenge Cup ties says Leeds Rhinos boss Richard Agar
HOLDERS LEEDS Rhinos “won’t die wondering” when they begin their Betfred Challenge Cup defence against St Helens this weekend.
Rhinos coach Richard Agar described Saturday’s tie away to the Betfred Super League champions as “the toughest draw you could get”.
But he insisted the team who eventually lift the silverware have to beat the best opposition sooner or later - and round three is as good a time as any.
“What you know if you want to win a Cup competition in this country is, somewhere along the line, you have got to pick off a [top] team or two,” Agar said.
“That’s the beauty of it, it is do-or-die football and I think it’s important we stress to our guys we are not going to die wondering.”
While Leeds are on the back of a loss to Castleford Tigers five days ago, Saints have conceded only one try in their opening two Super League fixtures and kept Hull KR scoreless last Thursday.
They are a massive challenge for an injury-hit Rhinos squad, who were without nine senior players last weekend, but being the trophy holders will give Leeds a lift, their coach reckons.
“We can draw on our Cup experiences,” he said.
“You know this is it and if you don’t go out and perform, it’s the end of the line.
“Undoubtedly we have got enough experience, hunger and desire to utilise where we have been and our past experiences in the Cup.”
Agar admitted Saints have been “the benchmark team for a fair period of time and made a really impressive start to the season”.
But he stressed: “We spoke pre-season about our desire and the manner we want to try and defend the trophy, which we think is really important.
“It is the sort of occasion most players would say they want to play in; Leeds and Saints is always going to be a headline fixture and we know it’s going to be a pretty big challenge, but we’ll get our boys excited about it this week, that’s for sure.”
One incentive for Rhinos is to reach and win a Cup final in front of a crowd, after last year’s one-point defeat of Salford Red Devils was played behind closed doors, with fewer than 200 people inside the 90,000-capacity stadium.
The Rugby Football League (RFL) hopes to have fans back for the later rounds of this season’s competition and Agar said - as memorable as last year was - lifting the trophy in front of friends and family would be extra-special.
“We still had a brilliant experience,” he said of last October’s triumph.
“The bus trip home was one of those special moments and the game itself and the intensity of it, we didn’t notice too much during the 80 minutes that the crowd wasn’t there.
“What I would love for our players is to experience the roar as you come out of the tunnel, the lap of honour at the end and your friends and family coming down to share it with you.
“Undoubtedly, while I can’t say our experience [last year] was anything other than a brilliant one and a positive one, it was different.”
Under the government’s road map out of lockdown, crowds will be allowed back into grounds from May 17.
Agar added: “As a game as a whole, we all can’t wait for fans to get back.
“Last year the clubs and the game did a marvelous job to get the game up and running and keep it up and running under some very difficult circumstances, but, at the same time, everyone is missing the fans being there. We think Friday night at Headingley is a brilliant place and spectacle for the sport and we feel our fans give us a very definite lift in any situation, particularly when we are playing at home.
“We are looking forward to having those experiences again, hopefully as soon as possible.”
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