Super League show must go on, insists Leeds Rhinos chief Richard Agar in wake of Hull FC coronavirus scandal

IT WAS exactly the scenario Super League had dreaded, but Leeds Rhinos coach Richard Agar feels a difficult week for the sport is simply a sign of the times.

Leeds Rhinos coach Richard Agar (Picture: Simon Hulme)

The code’s relatively tranquil return from a five-month coronavirus shutdown was shattered on Tuesday when it was revealed six Hull players – including five who played against Salford last weekend – and two staff had tested positive for Covid-19.

It is the first time the pandemic has directly affected a professional rugby league club in Europe and the outbreak has had widespread consequences, not least for this weekend’s Super League fixtures.

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Hull’s game scheduled for tomorrow was postponed and opponents Castleford Tigers will instead face St Helens.

New signing Bodene Thompson in training with Leeds Rhinos (Picture: Andrew Varley)

Salford have also been stood down, with Catalans Dragons facing Wakefield Trinity this afternoon instead.

Wakefield were originally due to play Saints tomorrow.

With Leeds’s game against Wigan Warriors moved back 24 hours to Sunday, only the meeting between Huddersfield Giants and Warrington Wolves is unaffected, though that kick-off has been delayed from 1pm to 6.30pm. Hull were also due to play Castleford in the Coral Challenge Cup sixth round next Saturday, but that has now been postponed.

Wakefield will face Catalans in the lone fixture of what was to have been a behind-closed-doors double-header at Huddersfield.

Leeds have escaped more lightly than most of their rivals, gaining an extra day to recover from last Sunday’s 48-0 beating by St Helens.

Both Wakefield and Castleford had done extensive preparation before this weekend’s opponents changed, but Agar feels some disruption is a price worth paying for the competition to continue.

“We understand that to keep us on the field, given situations like this, we may all have to be adaptable,” said the former Hull and Wakefield coach.

“If we are told on a Monday we are playing Wigan and on a Wednesday we’re playing someone else, we have got to get on with it, to keep us on the field.

“The situation we are in, it is just important we keep playing. It is going to be a different style of comp’ this year, you are going to have to use your squad in a different way and you are going to come up against challenges that wouldn’t normally be here. We just look at it like that.”

Agar admitted the rearranged fixtures will not suit everyone, but feels there is no perfect solution.

He added: “The Rugby Football League have handled it the way they have to because we have broadcast partners and it creates issues with the fixture list further down the line. I am not sure they could handle it in a way that everybody would be totally satisfied with the outcome.

“I really feel for Salford, who have had half their camp stood down and aren’t going to play for a couple of weeks through absolutely no fault of their own.”

Huddersfield Giants coach Simon Woolford has suggested Super League follows the lead set by Australia’s NRL with the introduction of bio-secure ‘bubbles’, which prohibit visits to public spaces like restaurants or coffee shops.

Agar conceded: “That’s a difficult one. Under the current restrictions we have been going all right, we have been Covid tested for five or six weeks and not had any issues. I can only speak for our club, but we have bought into it. But if that is what it takes to keep us on the field and any more instances do come about, maybe it is something they do need to consider.”

The Leeds coach is confident Rhinos are doing everything possible to minimise the risk of an outbreak at their club.

“Our staff are absolutely religious about how we operate within the Covid environment,” he said. “They are very, very careful and if anybody remotely contravenes any of the rules and protocols in place, they are all over us. I have heard some theories [about what happened at Hull], but I am not sure we would ever know how something like this could get into your joint.

“We just urge the utmost caution and if there’s any more rules and regulations put around it, we will adhere to them. It is important we keep the competition running and we are as careful as we possibly can be.”

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