Wigan Warriors v Leeds Rhinos – Richard Agar urges players to seize the moment in intense play-off battle
LEEDS RHINOS ‘won’t die wondering’ in tonight’s sudden-death tie at Wigan Warriors, coach Richard Agar says.
The season will be over for the losers of the elimination play-off between the teams finishing fourth and fifth in the Betfred Super League table. Wigan are the league’s second-lowest scorers - ahead of only bottom club Leigh Centurions - but have the third-meanest defence.
Agar admitted Rhinos will need to be patient and build pressure, but he also wants to see them play with flair when they get the chance.
Leeds ended an eight-year wait for victory at DW Stadium when they beat Wigan 14-0 there a month ago and Agar stressed: “This is a new competition.
“They’ve had a couple of good wins and I think, irrespective of the last time we played them, it is a play-off game, the intensity will crank up and we are playing a tough Wigan team.
“They have proved, over a number of weeks, they are very difficult to break down and to score against and points will be hard to come by.
“We know the size of the challenge but, at the same time, we are certainly going in good spirits.”
The Rhinos boss insisted his side must “be prepared to build pressure and take opportunities when they come”.
But he added: “At the same time, I will be encouraging our boys to go and find some opportunities too.
“We don’t want to die wondering in a play-off game.
“I think one of the keys is not to get too frustrated if you have some field position and you don’t post points.
“You go in knowing opportunities in a game like this could be few and far between and you’ve got to be good enough to take them when they come your way.”
Honours were split during the league campaign, with Wigan winning 19-6 at Emerald Headingley in April.
Rhinos have thrived on the unique play-off atmosphere in the past, two of their eight Super League title wins coming from fifth in the table.
Of tonight’s squad, only Tom Briscoe has a Grand Final winner’s ring, but Agar is confident his team can rise to the knockout occasion.
He said there has been a big-game feel around the camp this week and was before last Friday’s final league clash with Hull KR.
Rhinos are also boosted by the return of four senior forwards - Mikolaj Oledzki, Alex Mellor, Zane Tetevano and King Vuniyayawa - to their initial squad.
That is welcome news towards the end of a year when Rhinos have had up to a dozen players on the sidelines at times and 17-year-old forward Morgan Gannon has played more games than first-choice half-backs Rob Lui and Luke Gale and the same as star signing Tetevano.
Lui, who suffered a pre-season quad tear and damaged a hamstring in his comeback match, has featured nine times this term and injuries and suspensions restricted Gale to just 11 games.
Gannon could make his 13th appearance this evening, in his first season since stepping up from Rhinos’ scholarship.
That - and the fact Leeds’ hookers Brad Dwyer and Kruise Leeming top their try chart with 12 and 10 touchdowns respectively - illustrate what Rhinos have been up against this year.
Agar will have to decide whether to bring players back from long lay-offs into a high pressure game, but increased numbers at training have boosted preparations for tonight.
“This week is the first time we have done any team-on-team since we trained against York in pre-season,” Agar said.
“We have never really had more than 21-22 blokes training all year.
“There’s been 26 players training this week and we’ve had a good intensity to the session and it has definitely got a good feel about it.”