Salford Red Devils 26 Leeds Rhinos 12: Pressure mounts on Richard Agar after fifth loss in six

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.

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 quarter this year.

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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.

BAD NIGHT: Leeds Rhinos' Bodene Thompson is tackled by Salford Red Devils' Greg Burke, Andy Ackers and King Vuniyayawa Picture: Martin Rickett/PA

Last 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.

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.

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

Leeds Rhinos' Kruise Leeming is tackled by Salford Red Devils' Andy Ackers Picture: Martin Rickett/PA

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 Kruise Leeming before the opening try came off a mistake by Reds’ full-back Ryan Brierley, on nine minutes.

He dropped Aidan 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.

It was an outstanding piece of last-ditch defence by Walker.

Leeds Rhinos' Jack Walker (right) is tackled by Salford Red Devils' Elijah Taylor at the Emerald Headingley . Picture: Martin Rickett/PA

There was a controversial lead-up to Salford’s first try, after 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 Bodene 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 Zane Tetevano being binned for a shoulder charge on Sio, who went off for a head injury assessment.

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 Salford went in front four later.

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. Sneyd’s touchline goal made it 14-12.

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

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.

Salford Red Devils: Brierley, Sio, Cross, Lafai, Burgess, Croft, Sneyd, Ormondroyd, Ackers, Gerrard, Lannon, Wright, Taylor. Substitutes: Burke, Vuniyayawa, Atkin, Wells.

Leeds Rhinos: Walker, Briscoe, Broadbent, Sutcliffe, Handley, Austin, Sezer, Oledzki, Leeming, Tetevano, Bentley, Martin, Smith. Substitutes: Dwyer, Mellor, Thompson, Donaldson.

Referee: Jack Smith (Wigan).