Salford Red Devils 26 Leeds Rhinos 12: Pressure mounting on Richard Agar after fifth Super League defeat

Pressure is mounting on coach Richard Agar after Leeds Rhinos suffered their fifth defeat in six Betfred Super League games, going down miserably 26-12 at Salford Red Devils last night.

Ash Handley scores for Rhinos. Picture by Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com.
Ash Handley scores for Rhinos. Picture by Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com.

That statistic is unacceptable for a club of Rhinos’ stature and there is little sign of things turning around.

Leeds have played well for, at best, a game and a half this year and there is little sign of things turning around.

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After the optimism of pre-season - and some significant signings - this year is turning into a fiasco and, with a run of home games coming up, there is a danger fans will vote with their feet.

Rhinos enjoyed Mikolaj Oledzki's early try, but the celebrations were short-lived. Picture by Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com.

Friday night was a poor game between two poor teams, or at least two teams playing poorly. On paper, Rhinos had a strong side out, but they didn’t perform, again.

Leeds scored two tries to one in the opening 40 to lead by a couple of points at the break.

They started well, but had trouble containing Salford when the hosts got on the front foot, though the goal line defence was strong.

Rhinos’ discipline was poor, they conceded too many penalties - eight to Salford’s seven - and played a quarter of the game a man down, with Bodene Thompson and Zane Tetevano sin-binned for either side of half-time.

Jack Walker on the attack for Rhinos. Picture by Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com.

That took the running total of yellow cards shown to Rhinos players this year to six in as many games, plus James Bentley’s red in round one.

Leeds didn’t offer much on attack and, with 20 minutes left, coach Richard Agar made a significant change when he took Blake Austin off. Brad Dwyer came on at hooker, with Kruise Leeming - who had a decent game - moving into the halves alongside Aidan Sezer.

Rhinos led until the 67th minute, but two quick-fire tries swung the game Salford’s way and they got another late on to inflate the scoreline, but it would be hard to argue they didn’t deserve the win.

They weren’t very good, but Leeds were worse. There are no excuses. With Leeming, James Bentley and Cameron Smith all back, it was a strong Rhinos side, despite the absence of David Fusitu’a, who missed out because of a knee injury, giving Jack Broadbent his first opportunity this season.

Rhinos got over the line after three minutes through Ash Handley, but - after referee Jack Smith signalled a try, his video assistant Liam Moore ruled it out for a double movement.

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It might have been a 12-point turnaround as Joe Burgess made a break in the set from the penalty, but Austin tackled him into touch.

Leeds moved the ball nicely in the opening stages and some nice play by Jack Walker - who was one of the few players to do himself justice - almost led to a try for Leeming before the opening try came off a mistake by Reds’ full-back Ryan Brierley, on nine minutes.

He dropped Sezer’s low kick close to the hosts’ line, in Bentley’s tackle and Mikolaj Oledzki, who was following up, was gifted an easy touchdown which Rhyse Martin improved.

Salford seemed to have hit back within four minutes when Burgess slid over from Shane Wright’s pass. Smith indicated a try, but asked Moore to check and he again said no, spotting that the winger had a leg over the touchline before he got the ball down. That was an outstanding piece of last-ditch defence by Walker.

There was a controversial lead-up to Salford’s first try, on 18 minutes. Which came after referee Smith ruled Brodie Croft’s kick had gone dead off Handley.

The Rhinos winger was adamant he hadn’t touched it and replays suggested he was right, but a drop out was awarded and in the resulting set, Ken Sio touched down from a kick by Brierley.

Marc Sneyd converted and Rhinos were on the ropes for a while, until they tapped a penalty in front of the posts and, after a good offload by James Donaldson, Handley went over for an unconverted try from a brilliant cut-out pass by Walker.

In their pre-match press conferences, both coaches said they weren’t keen on the six-again rule, but referee Smith clearly is. He awarded nine in the first half, along with eight penalties. The final count was 10 set restarts for Salford and four to Leeds.

In the last two minutes of the half, Salford opted to attack from a kickable penalty, were awarded back-to-back set-restarts and then a penalty for interference by Thompson who was sin-binned. Sneyd took the two, after the hooter to send his side in 10-8 adrift.

The penalty provided Salford’s only points the first time Rhinos were a man down and very little happened in the third quarter, when neither side created anything like a try-scoring opportunity, or spent any time in the opposition’s 20.

Leeds, however, went back down to 12 after 57 minutes, with Tetevano being binned for a shoulder charge on Sio, who went off for a head injury assessment, whbich he failed.

Salford created the half’s first opportunity straight after that, when Tim Lafai teed up Wright, but he lost the ball in Bentley’s tackle.

Martin booted a penalty, for a ball steal, with 17 minutes left, but after that, it was all Salford. They went in front four later when Burgess collected Sezer’s kick behind Salford’s line, made it past half-way from the tap and though he was tackled, Chris Atkin crossed on the opposite flank on the next play.

Elijah Taylor was held up over Rhinos’ line, but then scored from Sneyd’s short pass in the 72nd minute.

To rub salt in, in the final moments former Rhinos prop King Vuniyayawa’s break set up a try for Brierley, which Sneyd converted to complete the scoring.

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