Salford v Leeds Rhinos: Richard Agar braced for ‘hellish’ run in Super League

LEEDS RHINOS coach Richard Agar has warned of a “hellish” spell ahead for teams in Super League.

Richard Agar.  Picture Bruce Rollinson
Richard Agar. Picture Bruce Rollinson

Rhinos have not played for almost a month, since a 60-6 win at Castleford Tigers on May 28, but tomorrow’s fixture at Salford Red Devils will be the first of four games in 13 days, with a home clash against Leigh Centurions on Thursday followed by a Monday trip to Warrington Wolves and then the visit of Catalans Dragons that Friday.

Added to that, five of Leeds’s squad for this weekend, Ash Handley, Luke Gale, Mikolaj Oledzki, Kruise Leeming and Matt Prior, were on duty at last night’s international between England and Combined Nations All Stars.

Agar confirmed Rhinos are “planning that they will back up” and said the next two weeks will be “a hell of a period” for everyone, not just Leeds. To maximise the number of matches played in front of crowds, the final 14 Super League rounds will be played between June 30 and September 17 and fixtures postponed because of coronavirus are now adding to the backlog.

“It’s very difficult for the guys who have to back up from Friday night,” said the Leeds coach of the players involved with England or the All Stars.

“The scheduling of the international fixture, not to be on a stand-alone weekend, is disappointing.

“I understand everybody concerned’s position on it, but we are heading into a very, very congested and demanding period for our players.”

He added: “The international fixture should be a stand-alone game.

“Shaun Wane [the England coach] should be able to have these players for a week to prepare for the World Cup.

“Putting a Test match in the middle of a Super League weekend before we have three games in seven days, I don’t think is the way to prepare our elite players for a World Cup at the end of the year.”

Rhinos were originally 
scheduled to visit Salford last night, but the fixture was pushed back two days to allow them to raise a team.

As well as the internationals, several who were yesterday still completing their return to play protocol after the club’s Covid outbreak, which led to two games being called off and their training base closed for 10 days, will be available tomorrow.

Leeds could have requested a delay until later in the campaign, but Agar pointed out: “We’ve had games against St Helens and Catalans postponed and I think some people outside our camp have been looking in and saying ‘do they really need to postpone those games’.

“This week, if we had postponed it, we’d be kicking the problem to a later date.

“If you start looking at the calendar and where we could fit it in, you are effectively playing three games a week for the rest of the season and we have already got some catch-up games.

“Salford wanted to keep the game on Friday, which we totally understand.

“They play next Thursday, but we could not have fulfilled the fixture without withdrawing our players from the international fixture.

“We didn’t want to do that, our boys were really excited about going to play for England and the All Stars. We didn’t want to deny them that and we could not have fielded a team if this fixture had been on Friday, through no fault of our own.”

Agar admitted: “It will be tough to back up and it could cause us some problems, but it would only cause more problems if we didn’t get it played now.”

Agar also stressed calling players up from Leeds’s academy was not an option.

“Our best and most physically developed academy players are already in our team,” Agar explained.

“Morgan Gannon has played the last four or five games, Levi Edwards and Corey Hall are with us, all our best young kids are with us anyway.

“Most of our top-end academy players we let go and they went to other clubs and we took who we thought were the best ones up [into the senior squad].

“Our academy players are 17 years old, on the back of 18 months off, with two or three games under their belt,” said Agar.

“I think it’s unfair and unrealistic to think we are going to fill our team with 17-year-olds to fulfil a fixture.

“I think that’s ridiculous, from a welfare perspective, for the integrity of the competition and our position as a club.

“Why would we do that when the rules permit us to take this course of action?”