The holders’ makeshift side, with two forwards playing in the half-backs and another at centre, pushed the back-to-back Super League champions all the way and a dramatic tie was not settled until Saints scored their fourth try in the final moments.
Agar admitted he is not happy to be a gallant loser, but stressed: “We need to keep fighting hard at this moment in time, when we are a little bit unbalanced, but if we can set that as a benchmark for effort and commitment and how hard we are going to defend, we won’t be too far wrong.”
Rhinos went into the game without 12 of their first team squad, including captain Luke Gale who is facing around a month on the sidelines after fracturing a thumb in the previous week’s defeat by Castleford Tigers.
All their specialist half-backs were unavailable and adding to Leeds’ problems, they lost debutant substitute King Vuniyayawa who was concussed after just three minutes on the field.
Another off-season signing Zane Tetevano was sent-off early in the second half, following a late challenge on Saints play-maker Theo Fages and both he and Vuniyayawa are likely to miss Thursday’s visit of Wigan Warriors.
Saints led 8-6 at the time and extended their lead to 14 points following Tetevano’s expulsion, but in a stirring fightback Brad Dwyer scored a brace of tries to set up a tense finish.
“We are out of the Cup and we wanted to defend the Cup, but there were some circumstances,” added Agar.
“I thought we had to overcome a number of hurdles during the game, but we can certainly pull out some positives and let that be a benchmark for effort and small things like how we got off our line and how hard we tackled.
“I thought we really went after them defensively and when things didn’t go right we tried to cover each other up, through sheer effort.
“I thought we shut a number of opportunities down for them through that.
“I really applaud our guys, take my hat off to them for the effort.
“They are gutted they’ve lost the game, but at the same time they know how much they’ve put into it and where that effort took them in some very difficult circumstances.”
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