Leeds Rhinos v Hull FC – Rhinos stars looking to prove shirt does not weigh too heavy

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THE glorious past is never far away from the uncertain present at Leeds Rhinos.

It is perhaps no surprise that the bulk of their Golden Generation are still operating at Emerald Headingley in some manner.

Leeds Rhinos' 'Luke Gale

Leeds Rhinos' 'Luke Gale

Kevin Sinfield, who captained the club to seven Super League titles during its most successful era, is director of rugby.

Rob Burrow, despite his shattering motor neurone disease diagnosis, continues to coach the Rhinos reserve grade while Jamie Peacock works in the club’s commercial department.

Even the most recently retired of that remarkable squad – Jamie Jones-Buchanan – is now back as assistant coach. The knowledge and expertise to call upon is vast.

However, emerging from the shadow of that success-laden team, while still noting its eminence, is something that Richard Agar knows is imperative to establishing further success.

I just want to win something. I have been playing for a while and I want to lift trophies. I want to take Leeds back to where they belong, at the top. I think I can, but it is not up to me, it is the whole squad.

Robert Lui

Rhinos, of course, have had to battle against relegation in three of the last four campaigns but 2020 feels like a fresh slate as Agar starts his first full season as head coach with Hull FC the visitors to Headingley tomorrow.

“We know it is Leeds Rhinos and the shirt weighs heavier than most,” said the former Wakefield Trinity chief, who helped Leeds climb away from the foot of the table after Dave Furner’s short reign in charge was ended in May.

“There’s an expectation and a responsibility around us, but we are ready to embrace that.

“We are not going to shirk and shy away from it. The pressures we faced last year, externally, I don’t think ever got to us internally, certainly during my 15 games.

Leeds Rhinos' Robert Lui. Picture: Tony Johnson

Leeds Rhinos' Robert Lui. Picture: Tony Johnson

“We know where we are and how hard we have to work, but we are really excited about coming in to work every day and that’s good.

“We understand there will be improvements to make along the way and we are not setting any targets, other than we are a consistently competitive team – and every time we pull the jumper on we are going to give our best.”

Few people truly see Leeds as being title contenders come October and it could be a campaign of transition as Agar looks to marry some clearly talented youngsters with new recruits such as England scrum-half Luke Gale and Australian prop Matt Prior.

But stand-off Robert Lui, who was bought from Salford Red Devils in June to help stop the rot, is confident they can create new memories for Rhinos fans.

The Australian will link up with Gale tomorrow and much will depend on how that fledgling partnership fares, not only against Hull but in terms of their hopes through the campaign.

Lui, who turns 30 later this month, said: “We have got all the right people in all the right places – halves, full-back, in the middle and hooker – and we are all fighting for spots.

“I just want to win something. I have been playing for a while and I want to lift trophies.

“I want to take Leeds back to where they belong, at the top. I think I can, but it is not up to me, it is the whole squad. I believe in every one of them and I think we will be good this year, but it all starts this week.

“We can’t look forward, we have to take it week-by-week.

“I think we have a lot to play for this year, with the likes of Rob (Burrow) and the new team.

“Galey has got something to prove, so have I. You will see a different Leeds team, that has started from the top and our young players too are pushing for spots.”

Leeds are without prop Ava Seumanufagai after he failed to recover from a knee injury suffered in the friendly win at Wigan a fortnight ago.

That means England Academy international Tom Holroyd could get a shot with off-season signings Alex Mellor and Rhys Evans also in the 21-man squad.

Hull head coach Lee Radford is without captain Danny Houghton (thumb) but former Widnes Vikings No9 Jordan Johnstone is an option to come straight in for his debut.

NRL recruits Ligi Sao and Manu Ma’u are also lined up to feature along with fellow new signings Great Britain second-row Josh Jones and St Helens winger Adam Swift.

Mahe Fonua, back for his second spell at the East Yorkshire club, is in the 21-man squad along with former Leeds favourite Gareth Ellis who, at 38, is now Super League’s oldest player.