Leeds Rhinos v Wigan Warriors - Kyle Eastmond’s league return is ‘great story’

A debut against former club St Helens was just out of reach but facing Wigan Warriors tonight will suffice just nicely for Leeds Rhinos’ Kyle Eastmond.

Almost 10 years since his last appearance in rugby league, and six weeks after signing for the club, the dual-code England international makes his bow at Emerald Headingley this evening.

Admittedly, they are not ideal circumstances given Leeds are missing at least 10 first-team players, including four half-backs, and will still be feeling some effects from playing much of Saturday’s narrow Challenge Cup loss to Saints with 12 men.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

However, head coach Richard Agar has told scrum-half Eastmond, 31, he is not expecting too much too soon from the player who thrived in both codes with his lightning pace and creativity.

That is understandable; he has not played a game anywhere since featuring for Leicester Tigers in March last year.

That said, it will be hard for Leeds fans and neutrals – certainly not Wigan supporters who will have bad memories of being tormented by Eastmond when he was with their fierce rivals Saints – not to hope for instant fireworks.

“Clearly, as coaches, we have to put some context and some balance to it,” said Agar.

“And if we think we’re going to get the 20-year-old England international coming back after a 12-month lay-off, they are unrealistic expectations.

Leeds Rhinos' new signing Kyle Eastmond. Picture: Phil Daly/Leeds Rhinos/SWPix.com.

“But some of the reasons we signed Kyle are that we think he is a super talented and a high performing rugby league player.

“The quicker we can get him back to that, the more it will be beneficial for us. But, taking my Leeds hat off, it is a great story.

“We spoke this morning at Kyle’s shirt presentation that it probably would have been easier for Kyle to stay in rugby union but he was up for the challenge here.

“And it is an intriguing one given his time away from the sport. To throw him straight in there, in a pivot position, is a real challenge. Hopefully it pays off for him.

“We’re very pragmatic and understanding and want to ease him in. But at the same time we’re more excited about getting him up to speed as quick as we can so he can really showcase his talents.”

With captain and regular No 7 Luke Gale likely to be out for up to four weeks with a fractured thumb, Agar will hope Eastmond’s progress is swift. It would certainly aid the coach as he navigates his way through an horrendous early season injury crisis.

Given the way his young side battled ferociously and for so long against Saints on Saturday, when Agar was forced to play two forwards as his makeshift halves, there is no fear about the spirit and desire in the Rhinos camp.

For now, the coach has told Eastmond to “keep it simple” and added: “I certainly think he’ll help us in a an area where we struggled last week – our last tackle plays – although from a gameplan perspective it will be a very different plan there.

“I’ve said feel your way and find your way back in. Clearly there will be a lot of eye balls on him and expectation but we’re very relaxed and understanding of where he is at this moment.

“And where we’re at as well as a team; we’re going to have a lot of personnel in key positions missing. It’s up to the rest of the guys to help him around the field.”

Leeds have lost their last two matches while Wigan have opened with three wins and have not lost against Rhinos in Super League since 2017.

Meanwhile, Agar said the club is “considering” appealing Zane Tetevano’s four-match ban.

The Kiwi was suspended after being found guilty of a Grade D striking charge following the late, high tackle on Saints’ Theo Fages that led to his red card.

Leeds challenged the grading, which comes with a maximum five-game tariff, and Agar said: “We understand the legislation around hitting ball-players late, and at times in the back and creating whiplash injuries when the player’s relaxed… We get that which is why we pleaded guilty.

“But we’re hugely disappointed with the grading and the findings.”

He added: “I look forward to every similar tackle being dealt with the same vigour this year although I’m not sure, at the moment, from the clips we’ve seen and number of tackles we’ve seen cautioned and Grade As, that a severity of a Grade D matched up with those.”

Support The Yorkshire Post and become a subscriber today. Your subscription will help us to continue to bring quality news to the people of Yorkshire. In return, you’ll see fewer ads on site, get free access to our app and receive exclusive members-only offers. Click HERE to subscribe.