Salford Red Devils v Leeds Rhinos: Visitors in 'a good place mentally' ahead of long-awaited return to Super League action
Leeds Rhinos will go into Sunday's rearranged fixture at Salford Red Devils without having had any specific training for it, coach Richard Agar says.
Agar has delayed naming a team to his players until Saturday's final captain’s run and confirmed the side who face Salford will not have trained together since before Covid struck more than two weeks ago.
Five Rhinos players have been away on international duty and featured on Friday when England were beaten 26-24 by Combined Nations All Stars.
Several others only completed their return to play protocol, following coronavirus, tomorrow (Saturday).
Salford have named a much-changed squad from their win at Huddersfield Giants eight days ago and Agar admitted Rhinos don’t know who they will be facing.
“You can imagine the difficulties of having 10 days off, having five internationals out of your team and having Covid issues,” Agar said.
“This week, we’ve just got to make it about ourselves. That’s no disrespect to Salford, but we can’t predict their team, we don’t really know our team at the moment so we’ve got to make it about doing what we do and doing it well. The sole focus of our prep’ this week has been on us.”
The game will come a day short of a month since Rhinos’ last fixture, a 60-6 win away to Castleford Tigers.
Agar admitted it has been a “disrupted and disjointed build-up”, but insisted: “The positive part is the boys are itching to play.
“We have talked about everybody stepping up to the plate and rather than expecting our England boys, who are some of our strongest players, to have an impact on the team, we want to carry them a little bit.
“We’ve set that challenge to our guys, so while we might have lost the physical momentum and cohesion we had in our last game - and we’ve been unable to establish it on the training field this week, just because of the personnel we’ve had missing - mentally they are in a good place.
“Despite a tricky start to the season and having plenty thrown at us, the boys still see plenty of opportunities for this season moving forward.
“It’s not like I am dealing with a team searching for its next win or next performance, quite the opposite - I have got a pretty excited bunch of guys.”
Reflecting on the four weeks since the victory at the Jungle, Agar admitted it has been a challenging period.
He said: “We had a good win last time out, then a bye week because of the Challenge Cup semi-finals, then Covid so we got shut down for 10 days.
“That brings its obvious disruptions and complications.
"We’ve had some guys who’ve had Covid who haven’t been well, a couple of them have been pretty sick with it.
“They are down for 10 days and then there’s a seven-day return to play protocol, so training has been disrupted and disjointed.
“Throw in a Test match when we have five players involved and we were unable to raise a team for Friday.”
The home team wanted to play last night, as originally scheduled and Agar added: “I can understand Salford’s frustration, because we [both teams] are on again on Thursday and we’re at the start of a very congested schedule.
“It hasn’t been a smooth build up, but it’s not just us - the rest of the competition has had a lot to contend with.
"It has been disrupted, disjointed and we’ve had to be quite adaptable in what we’ve done on the training field when we’ve actually managed to get on there.”
All the Leeds players on international duty this week are included in Rhinos Initial 21-man squad for Sunday, but Ash Handley will be unavailable after failing a head injury assessment during his England debut.
“We are planning that they will back up,” Agar confirmed.
“We haven't named the team to our guys yet, we thought that was futile.
“We have two middles involved [in the international] and we need to see how much game time they play and how they come out of it.
“It is a play it by ear job, but we’ve had practice for these situations before, last year, turning up for games not knowing what your team is.
“It is quite difficult and disappointing, given we felt we turned a corner in our last game, but that’s what it is and I don’t think any team is going to be without disruption.
"When you take three or four players out of any team it can hamper it and we’ve had that to contend with pretty much all year.”
Twenty-year-old prop Tom Holroyd could make his first appearance of the season, after recovering from a fractured leg.
“He would have made the 17 for round one, but he had a very unfortunate injury,” Agar said.
“He was in tremendous shape, but being off his feet will have robbed him a little bit of where he was physically and the up and down of the game and the collision is what he’s going to have to get used to.
“But he is in with a shout of playing this week, he is a big powerful specimen and we have high hopes for Tommy to develop and mature into a really strong front-rower in this competition.”
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