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Super League - Rugby League: Stick or twist a tough choice for Rhinos

When the Leeds Rhinos opened the cheque book at the end of the 2021 Super League season, it looked like the club could be about to turn a corner.

One of the most successful Super League clubs of all-time have had to do it the hard way recently, with their last Grand Final success having come in 2017.

The retirements of key players who have formed the nucleus of their success was always going to be tough, but Leeds have only had Challenge Cup success since their last Old Trafford victory - with the Rhinos 10/1 to lift the Challenge Cup again this season.

Brian McDermott was the last Rhinos coach to get his hands on the Grand Final trophy, with his replacement, David Furner, lasting less than a year in the job.

Current coach Richard Agar has been at the helm since June 2019, but recent performances have started to cast doubt on his future.

Winter spending yet to pay off

Even though the Rhinos lost Konrad Hurrell at the end of the 2021 campaign to St Helens, they still made some cracking signings of their own.

Leeds, 16/1 to win the Grand Final this season, signed James Bentley from St Helens, while Blake Austin, Aidan Sezer and David Fusitu'a all decided to move to Headingley.

The Rhinos believe the answer to their half-back issues are solved now they have Austin and Sezer at the helm, while Fusitu'a should be the devastating finisher they have lacked out wide.

But, as they often say, you cannot throw money at something and suspect immediate success. Leeds look like a team that has struggled to gel, but injuries and suspensions have also played their part.

Leeds have one win from their opening six Super League matches, and they are now dangerously close to the bottom of the table after Toulouse's shock victory over Saints on Saturday night.

Agar as a veteran of the 13-man code knows his position will be under threat if he cannot turn their fortunes around, and he admits he was recently baffled by their 26-12 defeat to the Salford Red Devils.

He told Sky Sports: "We are a proud club and I have a lot of faith in the group of players we have put together.

"We have got to give a lot of thought to where we are at this moment in time. It's tough for every single person in the organisation and also the supporters. We are searching for some answers.

"I know how the land lies - I am not sat here under any illusions. I felt we'd had a good week, and that's the head-scratching thing for me. It's my job to get a reaction out of that."

Time for players to back up their coach

Agar handed hooker Kruise Leeming the armband before the start of the season and it looks like there is still plenty of support within the dressing room.

After Friday's defeat to Salford, Leeming said the club "cannot turn away from the coach," and he has vowed to stand by the former Hull FC boss during the tough times.

Agar does not have everyone's support around the club, though, with former Leeds prop forward Ryan Bailey calling for his departure on Twitter.

While Leeds will not get dragged into a war of words with Bailey, it is a worrying sign that a veteran of the club is questioning the current hierarchy.

There will also be sections of the Rhinos fanbase that want answers and immediate improvements, but Leeds have had it hard so far.

During their first six fixtures, they have played Warrington Wolves, Wigan Warriors and the Catalans Dragons - and all three teams will feel they can challenge for Grand Final honours this season.

The recent defeats to both Hull FC and Salford do need to be resolved quickly, but Leeds will get a break from the pressures of Super League when they face Castleford Tigers in the Challenge Cup.

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Patience needed for now at Headingley

While everyone connected to the club will be frustrated by the start they have made, any calls for Agar's departure may be premature.

After their Challenge Cup date with Castleford, Leeds host St Helens at Headingley in the league.

Their fixtures start to ease after that battle, with Huddersfield Giants, Castleford, Toulouse and Hull Kingston Rovers all to come in April.

Leeds' main off-season signing, Bentley, has barely had any time to get to grips with his new club before being suspended, so a successful run in the team may help their cause.

Leeds also have a long-term plan for Agar and they believe he will take up a technical role in the years to come.

The Rhinos board clearly like Agar and what he stands for and the recent off-season was the first chance he had to splash the cash.

New faces take time to gel, and with the stricter rules being enforced, Leeds have lost some key players to suspension.

This week's Challenge Cup tie could be a clean slate and, while the naysayers will be worried by Leeds' fixture with Saints, Saturday's victory for Toulouse over the defending champions proves they are not unbeatable.

For now, Agar will need to prove to the supporters that the group are playing for him and making minor improvements along the way, and it could take one big result to get them back on track for the rest of the campaign.

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