Leeds Rhinos v Hull FC: Rhinos need ‘small steps’ if they are to continue on path to safety

WHEN it refers to a rugby league side, to argue they should not try to run before they can walk might be an unsuitable turn of phrase.

Richard Agar.

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Still, in essence, it is something interim head coach Richard Agar will be reminding his squad before they host Hull FC tomorrow.

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After recent improvements – back-to-back wins over Catalans Dragons and Castleford Tigers – it looked like Leeds could be climbing confidently away from the relegation zone.

However, they thrust themselves straight back into it imploding rather spectacularly to lose 32-16 at home to fellow strugglers Hull KR last Friday.

It is not a case of back to square one as such but timely proof that the work is not yet done. Far from it. Small steps.

Certainly, if they are as lax 
tomorrow, Agar’s former team Hull – in third with a Challenge Cup semi-final awaiting next Saturday – will probably punish them even more than their city rivals did.

“Last week was an opportunity lost,” admitted Agar, KR joining them as one of three clubs just two points above bottom-placed London Broncos heading into this round.

“But we are still in a situation where every game is absolutely winnable – and where every game if we don’t turn up at our best something like last week can happen.

“There was a real lesson for us. There was a little bit of talk about can Leeds launch a late bid for the play-offs?

“We have been saying all along ‘one game at a time, just get ready for the next game’.

“Whether getting ahead of ourselves was something we were guilty of, I don’t know, but it’s something we can’t afford to let happen again.”

Neither can they afford to rely on history; Hull, admittedly, have not won at Headingley for 12 years when Agar was still cutting his coaching teeth as an assistant at the East Yorkshire club.

Nevertheless, they are currently in good condition and challenging for both trophies, up to third with a Challenge Cup semi-final against Warrington Wolves next Saturday.

Agar, 47, said: “You get some comments that you don’t know what you are going to get from Hull, but they have won seven out of their last 10.

“We are in a competition where, pretty much outside the top-three, teams are having a couple of good weeks, then a couple of bad weeks.

“There is an anomaly in there (Hull’s recent results) in that they got smoked by Huddersfield at the Magic Weekend (55-2).

“They lost a derby to Hull KR and got beaten by Saints who are pretty much beating anyone.

“I reckon form-wise they will be happier than a lot of other teams in the competition.

“They have been patchy, but that’s symptomatic of the competition, apart from Saints, at the moment.

“Hull have a quality spine, are big and powerful and they’ve got some individuals in there who are capable of having a big say in which way their performance goes.

“We are preparing for a big challenge.”

Leeds are forced into changes due to the suspension of their England scrum-half Richie Myler for a trip in that defeat to Hull KR.

England Academy international Callum McLelland has been drafted into the 19-man squad but, if desired, Agar could also switch Liam Sutcliffe from the pack to half-back.

Prop Brad Singleton returns from his own one-game ban ready for his 200th career match.

Fellow front-row Nathaniel Peteru is also back in the reckoning for the first time since suffering a fractured cheekbone in the Magic Weekend win over London.

Agar added: “There’s been a lot of talk coming out of the Hull camp that they haven’t won here for a while so that’s obviously a focus for them.

“They have got a semi-final next weekend and I am sure there will be spots up for grabs.

“We’ve got to first of all worry about ourselves and putting right what we got wrong last week.

“That’s making sure we get the right level of commitment to each other and what we are doing defensively, because we are going to need it this weekend.”

He has called for an improved kicking game and greater precision from his scrum-half and hooker. Both will be essential if they are to stretch this record over Hull even further.